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January 1996

by Sue Adair

This year (1996) I replaced my participation in the Skaneateles CBC with a trip to the Northern Bahamas (poor me) and the CBC sector leader wanted a trip report.  I decided to post it here in case anyone else was interested.

My husband and I spent New Year's week on Elbow Cay, which is a small (~3 mile long) island off of Abaco Island.  Abaco is the northeastern most of the Bahamas Islands.  While this was not primarily a birding trip, we did see 65 species and I found 17 life birds and one life race (marked with * below).

Most of our birding was done by walking around on Elbow Cay.  We took the 8am ferry to Marsh Harbour on Abaco and rented a car on one day.  This allowed us to get to the pine forests which are absent on Elbow Cay.  We saw the Bahama Woodstar, Greater Antillean Pewee, Olive-capped Warbler and flavescens Yellow-throated Warbler only in these pine forests.  We also saw Greater Flamingo, White-cheeked Pintail and Bahama Swallow only at a lagoon on Abaco.  [This was at The Great Abaco Bone Fishing Club/The Different of Abaco.  It was mentioned in the WINGS catalog or I wouldn't have known to look there.  And it *is* different!].

Finally, we saw Loggerhead Kingbird only on Abaco Island.  We found La Sagra's Flycatcher, Red-legged Thrush and Bahama Mockingbird only on Elbow Cay.  The other West Indian Species were seen on both islands.

In the non-bird category we saw only two mammals - a bat and a rat.  We also saw one anole lizard and lots of Curly-tailed Lizards (which actually have curly tails!).  Best of all was the snorkeling.  We did some off of Elbow Cay but to reach the best areas a boat is necessary.  We rented a 17 foot Boston Whaler for 2 days and snorkled at Pelican Cays National Park.  There we saw one shark, one sea turtle (Hawksbill I think) and four Spotted Eagle Rays (a beautiful brown ray with a long tail and white spots and ring-shaped markings on its back).  Also many, many beautiful fish, very few of which I know the names of.  All of these creatures were swimming around in a beautiful (albeit mainly brown and olive colored) garden of Elk Horn Coral, Brain Coral, other corals and sea fans.  Definitely worth the trip!

Back to birds.  The sixty-five species we found are listed below.  FYI, the LaSagra's Flycatcher is not shown in Bond's Birds of the West Indies.  It was split from the Stolid Flycatcher which is shown in Bond's guide.  Also, the West Indian Woodpecker is called the Cuban Red-bellied Woodpecker in the guide.  I looked up these two birds in the AOU checklist because the names didn't match the WINGS catalog listing of birds from their Bahamas trip.  The rest of the names are from Bond's guide and I hope they are up to date.  I also noted the ease with which we found the West Indian Species (and Smooth-billed Ani, which I haven't managed to find in 3 trips to Florida) below.  We found the North American breeding warblers in the 0 - 5 per day range except for Palm and Prairie Warblers which were more common.

Magnificent Frigatebird   Fregata magnificens
Great Blue Heron          Ardea herodias
Great Egret               Ardea albus
Green Heron               Butorides virescens
Yellow-cr Night-Heron     Nyctanassa violacea
*Greater Flamingo          Phoenicopterus ruber
        Two birds at The Different lagoon.
*White-cheeked Pintail     Anas bahamensis
       About 15 birds at The Different lagoon.
Blue-winged Teal          Anas discors
Lesser Scaup              Aythya affinis
Turkey Vulture            Cathartes aura
Osprey                    Pandion haliaetus
Red-tailed Hawk           Buteo jamaicensis
Merlin                    Falco columbarius
American Coot             Fulica americana
Killdeer                  Charadrius vociferus
Ruddy Turnstone           Arenaria interpres
Laughing Gull             Larus atricilla
Ring-billed Gull          Larus delawarensis
Caspian Tern              Sterna caspia
Eurasian Collared-Dove    Streptopelia decaocto
Common Ground-Dove        Columbina passerina
*Smooth-billed Ani        Crotophaga ani
        Several flocks of 3 to 15 birds in shrubby and open areas.
*Cuban Emerald            Chlorostilbon ricordii
        Generally available on both islands.
*Bahama Woodstar          Callipholx evelynae
        3 birds around a flowering shrub off one trail in the southern pine forest of Abaco Island.
Belted Kingfisher         Ceryle alcyon
*West Indian Woodpecker   Melanerpes superciliaris
        2 birds on Abaco, 4 or 5 on Elbow Cay. One came in to roost in a palm in front of our inn each night.
Hairy Woodpecker          Picoides villosus
*Greater Antillean Pewee  Contopus caribaeus
        3 birds in the pine forests on Abaco.
*Loggerhead Kingbird      Tyrannus caudifasciatus
        About 8 birds in varying habitats (including the airport) on Abaco Island.
*La Sagra's Flycatcher    Myiarchus sagrae
        About 5 birds in shrubby woodland and mangroves on Elbow Cay.
Bahama Swallow            Tachycineta bicolor
        2 birds over The Different lagoon.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet      Regulus calendula
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher     Polioptila caerulea
American Robin            Turdus migratorius
*Red-legged Thrush        Turdus plumbeus
        I saw only one bird in shrubby woodland on Elbow Cay. My husband got to watch one perched about 10 feet from the
        deck of our room for 10 minutes (I was beach combing).
Gray Catbird              Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird      Mimus polyglottos
*Bahama Mockingbird       Mimus gundlachii
        5 birds in shrubby woodland on Elbow Cay.
White-eyed Vireo          Vireo griseus
*Thick-billed Vireo       Vireo crassirostris
        Common on both islands.
Solitary Vireo            Vireo solitarius
Blue-winged Warbler       Vermivora bachmanii
Northern Parula           Parula americana
Magnolia Warbler          Dendroica magnolia
Cape May Warbler          Dendroica tigrina
Black-thr Blue Warbler    Dendroica carulescens
Yellow-rumped Warbler     Dendroica coronata
Yellow-throated Warbler   Dendroica dominica dominica
*Yellow-throated Warbler  Dendroica dominica favescens
        One bird in southern pine forest of Abaco.
*Olive-capped Warbler     Dendroica pityophila
        Abundant (although not very easy to see - they seemed to like to hang out up high in the pine needles) in the pine forests
        of Abaco Island.
Pine Warbler              Dendroica pinus
Prairie Warbler           Dendroica discolor
Palm Warbler              Dendroica palmarum
Black-and-White Warbler   Mniotilta varia
American Redstart         Setophaga ruticilla
Worm-eating Warbler       Helmitheros vermivorus
Ovenbird                  Seiurus aurocapillus
Northern Waterthrush      Seiurus noveboracensis
Louisiana Waterthrush     Seiurus motacilla
Common Yellowthroat       Geothlypis trichas
*Bahama Yellowthroat     Geothlypis rostrata
        A few on both islands.
*Bananaquit               Coereba flaveola
        Common on both islands.
*Stripe-headed Tanager    Spindalis zena
        Two in Abaco pine forests.  One in Elbow Cay shrubby woodland.
*Black-faced Grassquit    Tiaris bicolor
        Abundant on both islands.
Red-winged Blackbird      Agelaius phoeniceus
House Sparrow             Passer domesticus

There they are!  The only bird I really feel like we missed was the Cuban Parrot (Psittacus leucocephalus bahamensis (sp?)).  Apparently it is most easily found by arriving at its roosting holes very early in the morning (well, I was told it involves arriving early, I assumed this would be at its roosting holes).  This would have involved chartering a ferry which was going to be too complicated and expensive so we decided to pass on the parrot.

Elbow Cay/Abaco was a great place to go with a relatively non-birding spouse (like mine) with enough birds to be interesting for the birding spouse.  The birdiest place we went was the road north out of Hope Town on Elbow Cay.  The only birds I heard sing were the Olive-capped Warbler and the Black-faced Grassquit.  Spishing worked *great* everywhere (except on Olive-capped Warblers).

I read that an ABA guide to the Bahamas is coming out soon but it was pretty easy to do without it where we were.  I'm an irregular reader of BIRDCHAT, but if you would like to know anything more, send a private e-mail and I'd be happy to respond.

Sue Adair
Syracuse, NY

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