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)

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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…

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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

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS ON ABACO

“FAST FOOD ON THE WING”

The Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii has several local names such as ‘killakadick’ and ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, and variations on the theme – presumably onomatopoeic. The photos below illustrate these wonderful birds in flight and on the ground.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

Antillean Nighthawk in flight 3. Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom SheleyAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

The speed of flight and the jagging paths make the nighthawks extremely hard to photograph. It’s far easier when they are on the ground…

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco Woody BraceyAntillean Nighthawk chick (aka pi-di-mi-dix) BahamasAntillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

Credits: Woody Bracey (1, 4); Tom Sheley (2); Sandy Walker (3); Birds Caribbean (5), Susan Daughtrey (6); Paul Marvin at Xeno-Canto for the sound recording

SANDPIPER SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

Ruddy Turnstone winter plumage.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley e

Ruddy Turnstone (winter plumage) Abaco (Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S SMALLER SANDPIPERS

Of the sandpiper species shown below, 9 of the 10 are ones that, at the right time and in the right place, you may see on Abaco. The tenth, the Wilson’s Phalarope, is the first specimen ever recorded for Abaco and as far as is known this is the only photo of it (props to Woody Bracey for this accomplished ‘get’). Again, some of the birds shown below were photographed on the Delphi Club beach.

SPOTTED SANDPIPER Actitis macularius   WR 1Spotted Sandpiper.Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley

SOLITARY SANDPIPER Tringa solitaria  WR 2Solitary Sandpiper, Petrie Island D G E Robertson Wiki

RUDDY TURNSTONE  Arenaria interpres  PR 2Ruddy Turnstone Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

RED KNOT Calidris canutus (non-breeding plumage)  WR 3Red Knot,  Green Turtle Cay, Abaco - Becky Marvil

SANDERLING  Calidris alba  WR 1Sanderling, Abaco -  Craig Nash

LEAST SANDPIPER  Calidris minutilla  WR 2Least Sandpiper, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

WHITE-RUMPED SANDPIPER  Calidris fuscicollis  TR 3White-rumped Sandpiper, Abaco - Tony Hepburn

SEMIPALMATED SANDPIPER   Calidris pusilla  TR 2Semipalmated Sandpiper, Abaco (juv) Bruce Hallett

WESTERN SANDPIPER  Calidris Mauri  TR 2Western Sandpiper, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

WILSON’S PHALAROPE Phalaropus tricolor  V 4 Wilson's Phalarope, Abaco - Woody Bracey

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley, D Robertson, Becky Marvil, Craig Nash, RH, Tony Hepburn, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey