BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS ON ABACO

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLERS ON ABACO

It’s warbler time of year on Abaco, and a good time to take a look at the Black-throated blue warbler Setophaga caerulescens. This small warbler has very particular breeding and overwintering ranges. In the summer they are found in the forests and woods of eastern North America. As the Fall approaches, they start to migrate south to the Caribbean and Central America. Abaco is one of their winter homes, as well as a likely transit stop on their way further south. Right now sightings are being reported on the mainland and the Cays.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR?

Males and females are quite different in appearance (‘sexually dimorphic’), and could even be mistaken for distinct species. Males are a deep slate-blue above (hence caerulescens) with a striking black face and throat, and white underparts. They are unmistakeable, and unlikely to be confused with any other warbler. Females are basically grayish-olive above and pale yellow underneath. For ID, look for a white stripe above the eye, a pale arc below it. In addition, both sexes have a diagnostic white patch on the the wing.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (f), Abaco (Becky Marvil)

The bird cartoon site Birdorable as usual has a spot-on comparison of the sexes

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m & f comparison) (Birdorable)

These pretty warblers can be seen in gardens, coppice, and woodland. Although mainly insect-eaters, sometimes catching them in flight, they also eat fruit and seeds especially in winter. BTBWs are territorial, and will defend their chosen space against all-comers, including their own species.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

One source asserts: “The bird’s song can be described  as a buzzed zee-zee-zeeee with an upward inflection. Its call is a flat ctuk”. See what you think…

SONG Etienne Leroy / Xeno-Canto

CALL Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

                        

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m) (Blaine Rothauser CWFNJ)

Black-throated Blue Warbler (f) (Dax Roman / Birds Caribbean)

ARE BTBWs THREATENED?

BTBWs are fairly common birds within their range, with a large population. The usual stuff is happening with them in terms of habitat destruction & co at both ends of their migration. For some already threatened species (e.g. Kirtland’s Warblers), habitat degradation at either end of the migration (let alone both) presages a downward spiral in population. With BTBWs, I have read both that the population is decreasing; and in another source, slightly increasing. For now, let’s regard the welfare of the species as being stable. However, the current causes of species decline will doubtless continue, and many regard increasingly evident climate change as being a determining factor for the well-being of migratory species. The birds are not yet out of the woods, so to speak… and maybe never will be.

CREDITS Photos: Gerlinde Taurer (1, 2); Becky Marvil (3); Bruce Hallett (4); Blaine Rothauser / CWFNJ (5); @daxroman / Birds Caribbean (7); Paul Reeves / Birds Caribbean (8).  Range Map, Wiki; Cartoons,  Birdorable; Video, Cornell Lab for Ornithology

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m) (Paul Reeves / Birds Caribbean)

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PALM WARBLERS

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett / Tom Sheley)

PALM WARBLERS: ‘HEADS-UP FOR BUTTERBUTTS’

I realise that the title of this post has its unattractive aspects. This is a family blog, and we try to keep references to ‘butts’ and so forth to a minimum. But like it or not, the Palm Warbler is one of two species** that have acquired the nickname ‘butterbutt’.  They weren’t even consulted; birders just went ahead with it without checking how they’d feel about it.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

On the other hand, it’s easy to see how this minor linguistic outrage came about. It’s there for all to see, right under the bird’s… erm… stern. That flash of vivid yellow, together with the pale speckled front, a rusty brown cap and striking eye-stripe, is diagnostic for this Abaco winter resident species.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The ‘heads-up’ is because right now they are among you. In the gardens, on the grass, on the tracks, in the coppice, in the casuarinas. And they have an endearing habit of bobbing their… tails, let’s say, as they forage. Palm Warblers are inclined to be fairly inquisitive and tame, so if you are careful, they may stay around to let you watch them. 

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The PW above must, I think, have been photographed at the very end of the winter season, just before it headed north from Abaco. The strong colours suggest this guy is getting into the breeding mood. Compare him with the picture below, taken by the same photographer during the same period, of a slightly less garish stage of breeding plumage. But it’s on its way…

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

As often as not, a palm warbler will be fairly easy to spot. Not always, though. You may have to work a bit to locate one half-hidden in foliage. Its posterior may not even be visible.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Luckily, PWs are common enough in winter to give you a chance to shoot them in the open, as it were. Perched on a branch works just fine to capture the essential characteristics.

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Keep an eye out for these pretty little warblers. They are enjoyable to watch, and relatively easy to get a photo of at close quarters. Just make sure you get the butterbutt into the picture.

** The other butterbutt bird is the descriptively-named YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER, though its buttery bits are on the topside so there’s no risk of confusion (I photographed this one as a distance shot at the top of a tree with a small camera – but it captures the essentials!)

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1)*; Gerlinde Taurer (2, 7); Nina Henry (3, 4, 5); Peter Mantle (6); Keith Salvesen (8, 9)

* Possibly Tom Sheley – all I have got on the filename is ‘Fruit Farm’ so I can’t be sure of the photographer’s ID – apologies

 Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO: AN UPGRADE…

Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit Tiaris bicolor and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGS, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described as ‘common’, whereas we are actually quite refined in our behaviour. Secondly, the words most used to portray us are ‘dull’ and ‘drab’. And ‘stubby’. Well, excuse me… I – we – ask you to give us a second look.

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

And I have some news for you. The perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union recently gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we see it anyway. For many years we have been classified under the heading Emberizidae. 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)

We kept company with buddies like the Greater Antillean Bullfinches, but also with a lot of New World sparrows, with whom we (frankly) never felt entirely comfortable. Too chirpy, for a start.

Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Last year, it became official. We are really a type of Tanager. They reckon we are closely related to Darwin’s finches (so, we are “common”, huh?). Now we get to be with other birds that are dome-nesters like us. And how about this – we’ll be in the same list as some really cool birds…

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

How’s this for a colourful gang to be joining: scarlet tanager, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting – these are our new cousins. BFGs “dull” and “drab”? I don’t think so.

Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

6 UNDULL FACTS ABOUT BFGS

  • Make grassy dome-nests (like Bananaquits) and line them with soft grasses
  • Both sexes build the nest together
  • Both share egg-sitting duties and later chick-feeding & maintenance
  • Though quite gregarious by day, for some reason they tend to roost alone
  • They have a short ‘display’ flight with vibrating wings and a strange buzzing call
  • Otherwise, their flight is ‘weak, bouncy & fluttering’ (Whatbird’s assessment)

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

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

STOP PRESS The day after I had pressed the ‘publish’ button on this post, I came across a great shot by Larry Towning of a BFG on Lubbers Quarters Cay, Abaco (think ‘Cracker P’s Restaurant’). An excellent addition of a bird from a small cay, showing its bright lower-wing flash.Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

Photo 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) plus Larry Towning. Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS ON ABACO

Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLERS ON ABACO

The Yellow-throated Warbler (Setophaga dominica) is a most helpful warbler, in that what you see is what you get. You needn’t go to embarrassing lengths to determine whether it has a Yellow Rump. It doesn’t make extravagant geographical claims like the Cape May, Kentucky, Tennessee, Nashville or Connecticut warblers. It doesn’t disguise its warblerdom with a confusing name like ‘American Redstart’ or ‘Ovenbird’. Nor with a weird warbler name that is completely obscure like the Prothonotary. It’s a winter resident only, so it won’t try to puzzle you in the summer. The males and females are roughly similar in appearance, unlike so many species. All-in-all, a most agreeable and obliging little bird. Here are a few to enjoy, before I spoil the magic slightly…

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) 2Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Erik Gauger)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil) Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Becky MarvilYellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated warbler, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I said earlier that the magic of the apparently simple ID of a warbler that lives up to its name would have to be spoiled. I’m afraid the images below rather undo the certainties I’d promised… two more species common to Abaco, also named for their yellow throats (though note: the yellow extends to more than just the throat) . 
BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT20130106_Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy
COMMON YELLOWTHROAT
800px-Common_Yellowthroat_by_Dan_Pancamo
You’d really think that someone at Audubon Towers or Cornell Castle might have thought of calling these two species ‘Bahama’ and ‘Common’ Masked Warblers, wouldn’t you – after all there’s a Hooded Warbler, which indeed has a hood. No other warbler has a mask like these two. Then any confusion could be avoided.
Credits: Keith Salvesen (1,7,8,9,10); Bruce Hallett (2, 3); Erik Gauger (4); Becky Marvil (5, 6). Thumbnails: Gerlinde Taurer, Dan Pancamo

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