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21 - 26 December 1997

by Carol Foil

December 21: Hope Town Harbour, Elbow Cay, Abaco Sunrise at 6:45, partly cloudy and warm with gusts of wind.

Prrrrt!  First bird LA SAGRA'S FLYCATCHER near the second floor porch of our room at the Club Soleil.  "Squeaking brought up NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD.  On the back porch in a Mimosa tree, PRAIRIE WARBLER, YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER (Bahama race with yellow halfway down the breast), THICK-BILLED VIREO, BANANAQUITS (sharp skeek!).  More squeaking from me...BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS, another Prairie warbler and the Bahamas race of the YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER ....  come in too close to focus.  THICK-BILLED VIREO is deep yellow in spectacles, and has a yellow-grey wash on breast and belly fading to a whitish vent and grey-buff on flanks.  The wingbars are whiter than on white-eyed vireo.  The back is grey washed in brown.  The iris is brown.  Secondaries are pale-edged.  The call is Burry - chup, per-we-oh, chick (and quite varied and incessant).  EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE flies over the harbor.

Boated over to Hope Town proper.  There are RING-BILLED GULLS over the water.  First town birds are Bananquits.  There are HOUSE SPARROWS and PALM WARBLERS in the shrubs and yards - quits at sugar water feeders and Tropical hibiscus.  Found an unusual for Hope Town ANTILLEAN PEWEE, with Empidonax size: big-headed, distinct eyering with a short extension behind the eye, indistinct partial wing-bars - silent, tail flicking.  GRAY CATBIRD, and North American race YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER in a well-planted garden.  AMERICAN RED-START pishes up.

11:15am On a fishing trip, I got dropped off on Tiloo Cay, which in the summer holds a Tropic-bird breeding colony.  It is a long ridge of a cay covered with low (3 - 8'), wind-swept coppice that fronts on the ocean with waves crashing over the top on occasion.  (On this cay, I am hoping against hope for a Kirtland's warbler, because the habitat seems to fit that described for the birds in winter.  Needless to say, I never saw one on this trip or the title of this report would read differently.) Black-faced Grassquits were near the dock, and Prairie warblers in the shrubs.  COMMON GROUND DOVE under some (non-native) Casauarina pines.  BOTTLE-NOSED DOLPHINS were hunting off shore on the bay side.  Pishing and squeaking brings up Bananaquits (no houses anywhere near), more Prairie warblers and a Redstart, then a La Sagra's flycatcher.  (This species is variable in size and color, some with much yellow around the vent and rufous in the tail obvious and others looking very dark grey above and light grey below and colorless.) Next bird is a COMMON YELLOWTHROAT, along with more Quits and a BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHER.  Next, first life bird - a ZENAIDA DOVE.  Later, near a stand of mangrove, a GREEN HERON, more quits and Ground doves.  Later in the afternoon, aroung 3:15 pm, the skies were overcast, there were strong gusts and rain was threatening.  Squeaked up a first-year male BAHAMAS YELLOWTHROAT.  The crown is greenish-olive, the thick black mask is flecked with yellow in the ear coverts.  The bill is the size of a thick-billed vireo's and there is no grey at the rictus.  The yellow is butterscotch colored, lightening on the vent and darker again on the under tail coverts.  The bird is silent and skulking.  There are abundant Palm warblers at this time and many Prairies.  A MERLIN shoots overhead and down the cay.  Later, against the shore-line, I see another Common Yellowthroat, very much smaller and brighter yellow.  Near the shoreline, in the Red Mangrove, a NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH squeaks up, along with one SMOOTH-BILLED ANI.  The latter announced itself with a chatter ...  "chicka, chicka, chatter, reee e ree" Late afternoon, by our room on Elbow Cay, added a WHITE-EYED VIREO to the day's list.  Great first day!

December 22: Marsh Harbour and Great Abaco

Met local nature-lover Debbie Patterson for a day of birding south of Marsh Harbour in hopes of finding the ground-nesting Bahama race of the Cuban parrot.  Weather partly cloudy breezy, mild temps.  We drove south toward Crossing Rock, then southeast toward Hole-in-the-Wall at the southern end of the island.  The roads are drivable with a regular sedan except for the last 3 -- 4 miles which could require 4-wheel-drive on wet days.

Birds spotted along the highway included: LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD, Northern Mockingbird, TURKEY VULTURES, LITTLE BLUE HERON.  Stopping for pishing in the pine forest produced La Sagra's flycatcher, Am.  redstart, Grey catbird, OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLERS, PINE WARBLERS, BLUE-GREY GNATCATCHERS, Palm Warblers.  Below Crossing Rock, we first heard a group of parrots, then a pair of CUBAN PARROTS settled onto the tops of pines for a better look at us.  This bird is beautiful with a creamy white head and matching beak, rosey red throat, black scaley nape, blue in the wings and overall grass green and lighter green tail..  It is the size of an Orange-wing parrot.  We saw another pair of parrots later and heard several groups.  We saw Cuban emeralds and one RED-LEGGED THRUSH.

52 miles below Marsh Harbour, the habitat transitions to coppice and soon we encounter Soldier Road to Hole-in-the-Wall.  We stop to investigate a limestone cave in the coppice.  There we pish up BLACK & WHITE WARBLER, BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER, and NORTHERN PARULA WARBLER.

There is a lighthouse at Hole-in-the-Wall that is presently serving as headquarters for Earth Watch Marine Mammal researchers.  The area is surrounded by low coppice.  There, at mid-day, we saw Loggerhead kingbirds, La Sagra's flycatcher, Common ground doves, and BAHAMAS WOODSTAR, along with Bananaquits and Palm warblers, Black-faced grassquits, and Thick-billed vireos.

Back on the road north in the afternoon, we birded the pine forest more, where the Olive-capped warbler is abundant and noisy.  We added YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER to our list, but missed Hairy woodpecker which I found in this habitat last year.  We also added a female Bahamas Yellow-throat and a female STRIPE-HEADED TANAGER to the days list and then one good look at a Zenaida dove.  Alas, no sign of my Bahamas nemesis bird, the Key West Quail Dove (missed again on the whole trip!)

In mid-afternoon, we turned off the highway to the east toward Casuarinas Point to visit Different of Abaco.  This is a lodge geared for nature lovers and bone fishing.  There are ponds and lagoons on the place and is the best spot I've found for water birds on the island.  We saw Bahamas woodstar again, two pinioned Greater Flamingos, and PIED-BILLED GREBES, AMERICAN COOTS, BELTED KINGFISHERS, OSPREY, RED-TAILED HAWKS, BAHAMAS SWALLOWS, Bahamas mockingbird and grassquits.

December 23: Great Abaco north of Marsh Harbour

A hot, sunny day.  I had rented a car the previous evening and husband Lane boated me back to Marsh Harbour for a day of birding and exploring on my own.  At the Marsh Harbour Marina I was greated by 2 very noisy Loggerhead kingbirds --- Tchurr, Tchurr, Shreeep!".  In the scrubby growth around the car park, I had some great morning birding before setting off: Northern mockingbird, several Grey catbirds, HAIRY WOODPECKER, WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER, Prairie warbler, Red-legged thrush, La Sagra's, Thick-billed vireos, Turkey vultures, WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON (a wary bird because hunted by locals and recently in season), Eur.  collared doves, Am.  redstarts - flycatching, Blue-grey gnatcatchers, Parula warbler.  I drove north on the highway towards Cooperstown.  On the road saw two Merlin, 2 flocks of Smooth-billed ani, CATTLE EGRET, MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRDS, lots of Palm warblers and several Prairies, and even a Cuban emerald.

I drove into the pine forest on the first old logging road to the west that looked passaable and spent 4 hours in the pine forest.  There, Olive-capped warbler was abundant.  Its song is very emphatic (like prothonotary warblers, but more complesx and varied cadence) "sweet-sweet, sweet-sweet-sweet".  Other common birds here were Cuban emerald, Palm warbler, Pine warbler, Prairie warbler.  Blue-grey gnatcatcher.

I had a long observation of a male Bahamas yellowthroat, foraging low and giving the whisper song incessantly for over 20 minutes.  (The bird is noticably large-headed with a very wide black mask, butterscotch yellow below, paler on the vent.  Brown yellow above.  The cap was powdery grey with a pearly grey broad stripe over the mask.  The rictus was very prominent with a grey colored downward grin making the bill look tanager-like.)

There were Common ground doves and Antillean pewees - mostly silent, but one individual was calling "puh, uh, pee-wee" and another "pee-dick, Pee da de de".  There were La Sagra's again, Black & white warblers, Bahamas race of Yellow-throated warbler, and Red-legged thrush.

I had to turn in the car by 3:30 to catch the last ferry to Hope Town at 4:00.  To finish the day, there was a flock of RUDDY TURNSTONES, and one BROWN PELEICAN at the ferry dock.  The latter is an unusual siting in the northern Bahamas, I think.

December 24--27: Elbow Cay, Man o' War Cay, Lubber's Quarters Cay.

Weather remains warm (70 - 80's Fahrenheit) and partially cloudy and breezy) I mostly confined my birding to the coppice and disturbed second growth of the cays, in a fruitless search for the quail dove (and, of course any fortuitous encounter with Kirtland's).  The only glimpse I had of the dove, on Lubber's Quarters Cay, was not convincing enough for a lifer!  There were many White-crowned pigeons on this sparsely inhabited cay.)

Birding was good throughout the days, but best in mornings and evenings of course.  On these days, I recorded many of the species already mentioned, and found Bahama woodstar to be not uncommon on Man O' War Cay on Christmas day.  Especially common on the cays are Northern and Grey catbirds, Bananaquits and Black-faced grassquits, Palm and Prairie warblers, Thick-billed vireos, Cuban emeralds, La Sagra's flycatchers, ring-billed gulls and Eurasian collared doves.  Not hard to find are West Indian woodpeckers, Bahamas mockingbirds, Smooth-billed ani, Magnificent frigatebirds and Merlin.

Birds I saw in this location last year but missed this year included Magnolia warbler and Yellow warbler.  Species added to my cays list on these days included SPOTTED SANDPIPER, RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD, WORM-EATING WARBLER, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER (abundant on Abaco last year), BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER, LAUGHING GULL, CAPE MAY WARBLER, one female PAINTED BUNTING.

December 26: Boxing Day east coast of Great Abaco.

Lane and I went bone-fishing with Maitland Lowe, legendary bone-fishing guide.  We had a beautiful morning, Lane caught 2 bonefish, and I added some birds in the sandy flats surrounded by mangrove and pine forest: GREATER YELLOWLEGS, GREAT BLUE HERON, GREAT EGRET, ROYAL TERN.  December 28 we headed home.  The birding (and fishing) had been great and the local folks unfailingly friendly and laid back.  We had great fresh seafood every evening.

The winter birding in this part of the Bahamas is notable for the abundance of warblers, flycatchers and hummers.  It is also notable for the relative lack of water birds of all types.  There seems to be endless miles of empty beaches and great stretches of marshland and mangrove shoreline empty of bird life, while the coppice and pine forests are alive with birds!  Great birding, very interesting.  An under-birded spot.  Hope you all can get there.

Carol Foil
1180 Stanford Ave
Baton Rouge LA 70808

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