GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH (“POLICE BIRD”)

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH: ABACO’S “POLICE BIRD”

Following my last gloomy post about the widely-reported die-off of the poor, exhausted migratory great shearwaters, let’s turn with relief to a cheerful bird known to all and admired in coppice and garden: the Greater Antillean Bullfinch Loxigilla violacea. These pretty birds are easy to find and to identify. They love feeders, and they are responsive to ‘pishing’, that irritating (?) noise that birders make to unseen avians in the coppice to persuade them to reveal themselves. Adult males are black with bright red accessories (hence “police bird”); females are paler with orangey accessories; and juveniles look a bit scruffy and patchy. Here’s a GAB gallery to enjoy.

Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 4 Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 5Greater Antillean Bullfinch immature with snail 2.Delphi Club.Abaco (Tom Sheley)Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco  (Tom Sheley) 1Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Great Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)GAB BH IMG_9208 copy 2

Credits: Erik Gauger (1); Alex Hughes (2, 3); Tom Sheley (4, 6); Keith Salvesen (5); Charles Skinner (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Bruce Hallett (9)

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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)

RUDDY TURNSTONES AT DELPHI, ABACO BAHAMAS

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON THE BEACH IN ABACO

Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres are well-known shore birds around the world. They used to be classified as plovers, but are now counted with sanderling. Fortunately they are distinctive enough not to be confusable with the many other species of shore bird with which they mix.Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 13

Their foraging methods are classified into 6 broad categories, though I imagine that if peckish, they may opt for all of these in the one feeding session.

  • Routing — rootling through piles of seaweed by flicking, ‘bulldozing’, and pecking it to expose small crustaceans or gastropod molluscs hidden underneath.
  • Turning stones — living up to its name name, flicking stones with its bill to uncover hidden snaily and shrimpy creatures.
  • Digging —  using small flicks of the bill to make holes in sand or mud and then gobbling up the prey revealed.
  • Probing — inserting the bill right into the ground to get at concealed gastropods.
  • Hammering — cracking open shells using the bill as a hammer, then winkling out the occupant. 
  • Surface pecking — short, shallow pecks to get at prey just below the surface of the sand.

Between them,  these turnstones seem to be using methods 1, 3, 4 and 6Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 2

This female bird has clearly dug down in the sand to the length of its billRuddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 4

This male is digging deep…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 1

When they are not actively feeding, turnstones enjoy group preening sessionsRuddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 9

They are also very good at just standing around having a companionable chat…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 6

…or a post-prandial snooze…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 12

…or just enjoying the scenery in groups…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 11

…or simply having a peaceful paddleRuddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 16All photos by RH on the Delphi Club beach (where I’ve never seen one actually turn a stone)

BLACK-NECKED STILTS

Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘ON STILTS’: ELEGANCE ON TWO LEGS (OR JUST ONE)

There’s something wrong in the picture above. Count up how many pink legs you can see. It’s three between the two birds. I assumed of course that  ‘Oner’ had a perfectly good serviceable leg tucked up into its undercarriage. I admired the balancing skills involved in resting one leg while nonchalantly standing on the other.

We were watching this pair of black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus at the pond at Gilpin Point, which at certain times can be ‘Stilt Central’. These birds are permanent breeders on Abaco and are without a doubt the most beautiful of all the waders.

Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
After 10 minutes observing this pair, there was no question about it – the right leg was completely and utterly missing. This had no obvious ill-effects on the bird – it was still able to throw a good pose (above) and to preen (below). And the other bird carried on as normal.
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
BNSs are territorial and in particular can become ‘proactive’ (ie aggressive) in protecting the area near a nest. I once mistakenly got close to a nest, not even knowing it was there. I soon learnt – a parent BNS came wading towards me, zigzagging in the water, shouting and carrying on in a way that immediately said ‘my nest is nearby’. And when I meanly stood my ground it suddenly took off and flew straight at my head…
A shouty stiltBlack-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)
All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco; Audio file Jim Holmes / Xeno Canto
Black-necked Stilts, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO

White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

WHITE-CHEEKED (BAHAMA) PINTAILS ON ABACO

 

White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The white-cheeked pintail Anas Bahamensis is also known as the Bahama Pintail. It is a gregarious species, often found in large numbers on lakes and ponds. An excellent place to see them on Abaco is at the pond by Hole 11 at Treasure Cay golf course. Don’t all rush at once – and if you do follow up the hint, check in  at the Clubhouse to get permission – there may be a competition in progress… You’ll see many other waterbird species there, and I will do a follow-up post about them. Do mind your head – if someone yells ‘fore’ they will probably not be counting duck species.White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The male and female of the species are very similar. However, in the image below there’s one bird that stands out from the others… and I don’t mean the American Coot. Near the bottom right is a LEUCISTIC variant of the Bahama Duck, a genetic condition similar to albinism.White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Here is a close-up of the same duck on dry land. These variants are known as Silver Bahama Pintails. They are worth more than the standard version. You can see some good comparative pictures and find out more at MALLARD LANE FARMS

White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 Here is a more extreme wiki-example of a silver Bahama pintail
220px-White-cheeked_Pintail_white_morph_RWD

Another excellent place for pintails is the large pond at Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks area of South Abaco. Strictly, it is on private land, but the owner Perry is happy to share the birds. There is a wonderful variety of waterbird life there. I have seen great egrets, tri-colored herons, little blue herons, yellow-crowned night herons, belted kingfishers and elegant BLACK-NECKED STILTS there, besides several duck species. I have also seen a sora there (twice), a small, furtive rail that skulks in the reeds and foliage at the edge of the water, profoundly hoping that you won’t notice it… If you are birding on Abaco from Delphi, ask Peter or Max for the location. Or else contact me.

White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

“On Reflection…”White-cheeked (Bahamas) Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

All photos except wiki thumbnail: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

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