By Steve Mlodinow, Steve Pink, Casey Beachell.
I began my trip notes while on the tarmac at Marsh Harbour, awaiting a 3-legged journey that took us to Lubbock, Texas. An odd combination for a trip, I do admit, but the story behind it is not entertaining enough to warrant telling. Beyond the touch of tourista and a bit of theft, the trip exceeded expectations. We saw 107 species plus several endemic races in 5-plus days of birding. Of our 21 target species, we got 20 in the first 24 hours. The weather was warm, sunny, and tempered by gentle breezes. The people were friendly, the food good, and the rum plentiful.
Better yet, the birding was mostly away from the throbbing noise of humanity. The roar of plane engines, car motors, and leaf blowers were not to be heard. The only sounds were those created by birds, insects, and surf (and almost no mosquitos!). Best of all, the birds were abundant, with passerines in every tree. The West Indian specialties were easy to find and often absurdly tame. At various times, Cuban Emeralds, La Sagra's Flycatchers, Bahama Mockingbirds, Loggerhead Kingbirds, Cuban Pewees, Thick-billed Vireos, Bananaquits, Stripe-headed Tanagers, and Black-faced Grassquits came too close to focus upon. Indeed all but the tanagers were seen as close as 6 feet at least once. We also had exceptionally good views of Bahama Parrot, White-cheeked Pintail, Bahama Woodstar, West Indian Woodpecker, Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Red-legged Thrush, Olive-capped Warbler, 'Bahama' Yellow-throated Warbler, 'Cuban' Yellow Warbler, and 'Cuban' Kestrel.
Indeed, of our target birds, only the Key West Quail Dove left us wanting more. Abaco would be a photographer's paradise. I would recommend it most strongly to anyone making a winter trip to Florida, especially if you are coming from the western US or Europe, where eastern wood warblers are rare (we had 21 species of warblers).
There are no major rental car companies in the Bahamas. We rented from H&L Rentals (Phone 242-367-2854/367-2840). There seems to be a standard rate of $350/week, irrespective of car size, but with 4-wheel drive costing more. We stayed at Pelican Beach Villas (800-642-7268). These ran 1300$/ week for the three of us. The 'villas' were fabulous. Somewhat isolated, they are quiet and clean and right on the beach. Each unit has two bedrooms, each with a private bathroom. There is a spacious living room and full kitchen. We went into town and hit the local shops. This allowed us to have breakfast in our own place and pack lunches. I know that the villas are not cheap, but there does not appear to be inexpensive digs, except perhaps at the Marsh Harbour Airport Motel. The water is not tasty, but is safe (at least in MH, itself). Mangos, less than a mile away, was a superb restaurant (but pricey, but so are all the restaurants). The Bahamanian dollar is fixed to the American on a 1:1 basis, so US currency is easily used. The drivers seem sane, but driving is on the left (as in Britain). We felt very safe, excepting the undeniable fact that someone stole $250 dollars out of a fanny pack in our living room while we were sleeping. Local residents tell us that this is exceedingly unusual.
Books: A Birder's Guide to the Bahama Islands by A.W. White was published in 1998 by the ABA. It is a superb finding guide. The directions are easy to follow and accurate (except, Sugarland Farms- the warehouse is 5.6 miles south of the traffic circle and was closed each time we tried to visit). The photos are useful and the status-and-distribution list (pp 230-250) was helpful. A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies by H. Raffaele et al. (published in 1998 by Princeton University Press) is a field guide that is a nice improvement over Bond's guide, and we were pleased to have it. The vireo plate, however, is weak and I am not very fond of the flycatcher plates as well. Comments on these as relating to Bahama specialities can be found below.
Anyway, below is our itinerary given in a somewhat story-like fashion. Following that is a list of highlights, our species list, notes on location of specialities, and notes on ID. Enjoy. And go to Abaco.
January 16: We arrived at MARSH HARBOUR on a mid-day flight from Miami. The flight gave wondrous views of an amazing turquoise and sapphire colored seas. A more ominous view, however, was several wrecked airplanes that had apparently missed the runway and were left to rust in the bush. Our landing, happily, was uneventful. Customs and immigration was easily passed despite our suspicious appearances. We called the rental car company, got our car (a big Oldsmobile for $350/week) and went to Pelican Shores Villas. We were exceptionally pleased with our accomodations, especially as Steve Pink nailed two life birds (SH Tanager and CM Warbler) before we were unpacked. After getting settled, we birded around Marsh Harbour from 2pm to 5pm (sunset about 5pm), visiting the GREAT ABACO BEACH RESORT and birding along the road from the RESORT TO ALBURY'S FERRY DOCK (see p. 54 of A Birders Guide to the Bahama Islands by Anthony White). Stripe-headed Tanagers, Thick-billed Vireos, Bananaquits, Cuban Emeralds, Red-legged Thrushes, Loggerhead Kingbirds were easily found. We also saw Cuban Pewee, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Black-faced Grassquit, and Bahama Mockingbird (in nursery area behind resort). Rarest birds were an adult LBB Gull at the resort's pier and 2 RT Hummingbirds in the neighborhoods. We also snagged a Mangrove Cuckoo in a backyard- the only one we saw all trip. As a note to future visitors- the gated resort looks intimidating, but permission to bird was quickly granted and resort personnel all seemed interested in our birding and quite friendly.
January 17: We left our rooms at 6 AM and started birding at 7 AM in SANDY POINT NF just south of Crossing Rock. This area is extensive Caribbean Pine forest. The delightful Bahama Parrots were found early and easily- located by their vociferous vocalizations. Also, Bahama Yellowthroats were singing loudly from the understory but sadly, were not so easy to see. Black-faced Grassquits were everywhere. We got first view of Bahama Woodstar here. Other specialties included Cuban Emerald, Cuban Pewee, La Sagra's Flycatcher, Loggerhead Kingbird, Bahama Swallow (overhead, but good views), Red-legged Thrush, Thick-billed Vireo (they are everywhere), 'Bahama' Yellow-throated Warbler, Bananaquit, Greater Antillean Bullfinch. We then continued on in Sandy Point NF to area known as "THE Y" in White's book (p. 59). This is also Caribbean Pine forest. Got more of what we had before plus great views of a perched Zenaida Dove and our first Olive-capped Warblers. A most wondrous component of birding this entire area, from Crossing Rock to The Y is that it is silent. On a windless morning, all you here are insects and birds. No Cars. No Planes. No Boats. No hissing wires. Nada. Nothing. It is serene, peaceful, relaxing, remarkable.
About 10 am we moved onto SANDY POINT AREA. The beach area (9.6 miles from The Y) has some mangroves and provided some good birding. Here we had a smashing view of a female Bahama Woodstar (our second and last look at this species), several 'Cuban' Yellow Warblers, a Virginia Rail (apparently Abaco's first), lots of Northern Waterthrush, and a few other warblers. Also, there were several Cuban Pewees along the mangroves edge (in the parking area, face the sea and then walk to your left- you can go about ½ mile along the mangrove edge). The Cuban Pewees were ridiculously tame. Again, Black-faced Grassquits are abundant and tame. Bananaquits and Stripe-headed Tanagers are also numerous.
The SETTLEMENT AT SANDY POINT has some good shorebird habitat viewable from the very tip. Park at road's end (see p. 59 in White's book) and walk a short distance to the east. Here we had our only Piping Plover, BB Plovers, Semipalmated Plovers, Wilson's Plovers, Western Sandpipers, Short-biled Dowitchers, and Willets. Also, there were many Great Egrets and LB Herons. On the wires, in the town itself, we had our only 'Cuban' Kestrel. Herring, Ring-billed, and Laughing Gulls were on the towns small piers and a couple Brown Pelicans hung around as well. On Sunday, there was nothing open for refreshments. When we came back later in the week, a few small shops were open, and we were able to get a cold drink and a candy bar with ease.
In mid-Afternoon, we headed back north to BAHAMA PALM SHORES (p. 62). The road into the development ends at a little parking lot next to the sea. This lot was quite birdy, as was the surrounding neighborhoods, but we saw nothing unusual. We did get our best and most prolonged views of SB Ani here. Finally, around 3:30, we arrived at DIFFERENT OF ABACO, which is to say the least, different. It is a bone fishing camp/odd little museum. The owner is trying to raise flamingos, so be warned, they ain't countable. The large pond here did, however, provide us with 35 White-cheeked Pintail, 210 Ring-necked Duck, and a few herons. About 50 Bahama Swallows circled over the water. Note that there is an entrance fee, about $3 per person. We finished this first day with all of our target birds (other than KW Quail-Dove) under our belts. We celebrated by drinking lots of rum and going to the Jib Room for a steak bbq (very tasty). The Jib room is a block away from the Pelican Beach Villas.
January 18: The day began at sunrise along CHEROKEE SOUND. We were hoping for a water bird or two but were rewarded only by a distant Magnificent Frigatebird. We then scooted back to "THE POND", which is west of Marsh Harbour and near the dump (see p. 54 of White's book). The Pond is hard to see and yielded no water birds that first day. However, the scrub around the pond was good for passerines. We looked only briefly that first day (more to come later), but still pulled out a rare Lincoln's Sparrow. We next visited THE DUMP. I don't know what it is about dumps in tropical areas, but there are no gulls and lots of passerines. In Malaysia, Fraser Hill's dump is renowned (but smokey, and at times, ablaze). At Chan Chich in Belize, the dump swarms in flies and insectivores. And in Abaco, it is the Marsh Harbour Dump. We drove in and were surrounded by legions of Palm Warblers and Red-winged BBs. Among the RWBB's, a glossy purple bird without red epaulettes leapt out- a male Shiny Cowbird. An apparent Abaco first and a life bird for Steve Pink. Among the throngs of warblers at the dump's edge we found a rare Nashville Warbler, and among the 250 Palm Warblers, we found one 'Yellow' Palm. The dump also provided us with our only Mourning Doves and Cattle Egrets. I must admit, though, that watching La Sagra's Flycatchers perched on rusted out truck bodies is disconcerting. Maybe we should check the Miami dump some time. We also had one Bahama Yellowthroat (plus many Commons), Loggerhead Kingbirds, Black-faced Grassquits, Red-legged Thrush, Bananaquits, Cuban Pewees, and the ubiquitous Thick-billed Vireo here. After leaving le' dump, we headed north to TREASURE CAY (see p. 68). The first stop was the GOLF COURSE. Here Stripe-headed Tanagers, Bananaquits, Cuban Emeralds, and Loggerhead Kingbirds were fairly common, despite being mid-day. The pond along the 11th hole had several Least Grebes, a Least Bittern, and seven White-cheeked Pintail (tremendous photo opportunity for both grebes and pintails). Next we went to the OLD HOTEL SITE at Treasure Cay. This area throbbed with passerines. Stacks of warblers, a Summer Tanager, lots of Bananaquits, Stripe-headed Tanagers, Cuban Emeralds, Cuban Pewees, La Sagra's Flycatchers, a Loggerhead or two. On the waterfront nearby, we lucked upon a rare Bonaparte's Gull. This day, flushed from our previous success, we headed back early, arriving at "the villa" around 2:30. Rum and naps were partaken of. We headed that evening to Mangos, a fabulous restaurant only a mile or so from where we were staying.
January 19: Went to Albury's Ferry Dock (by the way, half the businesses on the islands are named Albury's as are, seemingly, half of the caucasian residents). Took the 7 am ferry to nearby ELBOW CAY. Birded around the charming village for a bit until our rental golf cart arrived. We then happily puttered away (pun partly intended) to, yes, THE DUMP. The gravel road to the dump and the dump itself were packed with birds: warblers, Bananaquits, Cuban Emeralds, Cuban Pewees, a couple Indigo and Painted Buntings - lots of stuff. We then went back out of the dump and took a right turn onto the road we had just gotten off of. We followed this until it turned sharply to the left (map on p. 64 close to accurate, but not quite right). We pulled over here, walked down the gravel road, took a right branch, kept to our right, and finally found ourselves on a foot path that lead behind the dump (could hear it and smell it but not see it) and back onto a main road. We did this walk in hopes of finding a KWQDove in the good coppice. No Luck. We did get a couple Bahama Mocks, Cuban Pewees, Bananaquits, and Cuban Emeralds. Thick-billed Vireos were even more common here than elsewhere, an impressive feat. We then tootled around the island on the golf cart, a fun thing to do (with good birding on the roads that loop to the northwest from the main road south of Rudy's Place - see map on p. 64), and wound up having an afternoon nip at the Abaco Inn near White Sound. Near the inn on White Sound we got a couple of reportedly rare American Oystercatchers. Sitting on a deck watching the azure sea sipping rum- it was a hard life.
After this respite, we decided to give the quail dove one more go. We went back to the dump area, since I thought I might have heard a quail dove fly off earlier in the day. When getting to the dump road, we turned left instead of right. A few minutes later, I heard rustling in the undergrowth. I was about to write it off when Casey saw a dove shape. After another fifteen minutes of agonizing effort, we all got an identifiable look, several thorns in our skin, and a brush or two with Poisonwood. And so the last target bird fell.
January 20: We repeated our day of January 17th, starting in the SANDY POINT NATIONAL FOREST, then going to SANDY POINT, and finishing up at BAHAMA PALM SHORES. The highlights were much the same, which is to say, wondrous. The parrots performed nicely again in the NF just south of Crossing Rock, and we found a small group at Bahama Palm Shores. No more Bahama Woodstars though. We had a flyby Zenaida Dove in the NF, plus one in the development at Bahama Palm Shores. Somewhat rare birds new for the trip included a Blue-winged Warbler at the mangroves near Sandy Point and a Black-throated Green Warbler at Bahama Palm Shores. The day was capped by a tasty steak at Mangos for me, and other gustatory delights for my companions. Oh yes, there was more rum.
January 21: We spent the morning at the least attractive but most productive area: THE DUMP and THE POND near MARSH HARBOUR. A midday nap session was followed by an afternoon return to DIFFERENT OF ABACO and some exploring around FANNY BAY and POND BAY in Marsh Harbour (see map on p. 54). The area around the pond was explored more thoroughly than before. Along the east side, there is extensive brushy areas and another dump area where mostly produce has been disposed of. The birding was fabulous. We had another Yellow Palm Warbler among dozens of their duller comrades; there were 3 Blue Grosbeaks, 6 Painted Buntings, 18 Indigo Buntings, 3 Savannah Sparrows, and a Chipping Sparrow. Also, Black-faced Grassquits, Cuban Pewees, Loggerhead Kingbirds, and La Sagra's Flycatchers were seemingly everywhere. The Dump wasn't as good as the previous visit, but we found another Savannah Sparrow there. The visit to Different was not at all different from our first visit, but the White-cheeked Pintail were nice to see again. We had two more Oystercatchers at nearby CASAURINA POINT.
January 22: We birded for a couple hours in the morning around MH. The wind was up and our hearts were not in it. It was sad to be leaving, and we all had a tad of tourista. The visit here was fabulous, with lots of birds, relaxing surroundings, a fine place to stay, good food, good rum. But, it was off to the Texas Panhandle with us. But that is another story.
West Indian Specialities:
Note, locations can be found in A Birders Guide to the Bahama Islands.
Least Grebe: 7 at Treasure Cay Golf Course and one at Marsh Harbour pond
White-cheeked Pintail: 35 at Different of Abaco, 7 at Treasure Cay Golf Course
'Cuban' Kestrel: Supposed to be common, but saw only one: a bird perched on wires in the Sandy Point settlement. See photo in Birder's Guide to the Bahama Islands.
White-crowned Pigeon: Shy, even on the Bahamas. Saw a few, mostly in coppice habitat such as that found around Great Abaco Beach Resort and at Bahama Palm Shores.
Eurasian Collared Dove: Perhaps the 'soon to be ubiquitous around NA and Europe' Collared Dove. Common around settlements.
Zenaida Dove: One good prolonged view near The Y in Sandy Point National Forest. Also a couple flybys elsewhere at SPNF. One bird came to roadside (to pick up gravel?) at Bahama Palm Shores.
Key West Quail-Dove: Took only 6 hours to find! The one or two we saw were in the good coppice habitat near the dump at Elbow Cay.
Bahama (Cuban) Parrot: Fairly easily found in early AM at Sandy Point NF. The birds we saw were all north of Crossing Rock before reaching The Y. Generally located by sound first. They are not shy. Also saw small group in residential area of Bahama Palm Shores (eating figs?).
Mangrove Cuckoo: Only one. It was in a large tree in a backyard between the Great Abaco Beach Resort and Albury's Ferry Dock.
Smooth-billed Ani: Common in brushy areas. Had particularly nice and prolonged views in brushy areas of Bahama Palm Shores and at the old hotel site in Treasure Cay.
Cuban Emerald: Common, seemingly everywhere. Especially easily seen and approached on Elbow Cay feeding on flowers resembling what is called 'bottle brush' in California. Often quite responsive to pishing.
Bahama Woodstar: Two only, both females. One just south of Crossing Rock in the national forest. The other near the mangroves just before entering Sandy Point settlement.
West Indian Woodpecker: A few scattered individuals, mostly in the Caribbean Pine forest but also a couple near the old hotel site at Treasure Cay. Some response to pishing.
Cuban Pewee: Common in coppice and pine areas, but seems to avoid dense woods. Also in residential areas, the garbage dumps, etc. Very tame and responds nicely to pishing.
La Sagra's Flycatcher: In a wide variety of areas, seeming to prefer coppice, but also seen in Caribbean Pines. A fine collection in dumpsite near Marsh Harbour Pond. Responds well to pishing. Very tame.
Loggerhead Kingbird: Also seemed to "pish in". Common in open areas, including residential. Often quite tame.
Bahama Swallow: A big grouping in poor light was present one evening at Different of Abaco. Had a dozen on wires near Marsh Harbour Dump and another small group feeding over road south of Crossing Rock early in AM.
Red-legged Thrush: Common. Responds well to pishing by coming into open, but does not usually approach closely. Mostly in coppice areas, including Great Abaco Resort area and Bahama Palm Shores.
Bahama Mockingbird: Only one on Great Abaco- a bird in the nursery area of the Great Abaco Resort. Saw six on Elbow Cay in coppice areas and nearby residential areas. Some where singing here. Pished in fairly well.
Thick-billed Vireo: AKA ubiquitous vireo. Pish in exceedingly well, often coming within a few feet, and are present everywhere.
'Cuban' Yellow Warbler: A few were in mangroves near Sandy Point. Pished in nicely.
'Bahama' Yellow-throated Warbler: Fairly common in pine woods. Fair response to pishing. None found in coppice or residential areas.
Olive-capped Warbler: Fairly common in pine woods. Fair response to pishing. None found in coppice or residential areas.
Bahama Yellowthroat: Found most easily in Sandy Point NF between Crossing Rock and The Y. Saw one bird at MH Dump (where pine forest borders dump area). The one specialty that I really did not get to study to my hearts content. Singing vigorously in AM in pine woods. Would often pish in.
Bananaquit: Common, especially around residential areas. Usually, pish in very easily.
Stripe-headed Tanager: Common. Pishes in sometimes. Often seems loathe to come out of cover. Occasionally approached quite closely. Seen in wide variety of habitats.
Greater Antillean Bullfinch: Fairly common. Seen most easily around Bahama Palm Shores, though also seen repeatedly between Crossing Rock and The Y. Pishes in fairly well, but typically will remain back in cover. Tame.
Black-faced Grassquit: Everywhere there is grass or weeds. Very common and very tame. Pishes in ridiculously easily.
Not Previously Recorded on Abaco
Virginia Rail (1) Sandy Point 17 Jan 99
Shiny Cowbird (male) Marsh Harbour 18 Jan 99
Identification notes from Abaco
The exceptional tameness of many species on Abaco allowed us to study several birds to our hearts' content. We found ourselves taking exception with several illustrations in major guides. Below are our notes. The books I refer to most are as follows:
A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies (BWI) by H. Raffaele, J. Wiley, O. Garrido, A. Keith, and J. Raffaele. Published in 1998 by Princeton University Press.
A Birder's Guide to the Bahama Islands (BGB) by A.W. White. Published in 1998 by ABA.
Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2nd ed (NGS) published by National Geographic Society in 1987.
Cuban Emerald (Chlorostilbon ricordii): Intermediate in size between small NA hummers (eg, Ruby-throated) and large hummers (eg, Magnificent). Impression is often that of the larger group. A striking feature of the Cuban Emerald is tail size and shape. The tail is strikingly broad and long as well as forked (in male) or deeply notched (in female). This characteristic usually eliminated thought's of other species by silhouette alone.
Females are depicted as having white underparts (BWI) and grayish underparts (NGS). We found the underparts to be dingy, but not as dark as depicted in NGS. Also, the shape of the female is much more like that shown in BWI as opposed to the very slender shape shown in the NGS.
The NGS mentions a pinkish lower mandible. We did not specifically look for this feature (our mistake), but also did not notice it despite a number of crippling views. It is also not apparent in the two photos in BGB, so perhaps this mark is absent in some (or many) birds. Finally, the post-ocular marking was usually a small whitish spot, but was sometimes a more extensive post-ocular stripe.
Cuban Pewee (Contopus caribaeus): A common and tame bird that usually appeared more empid-like rather than pewee-like, though measurements in various guides are closer to those of wood-pewees than empids. The Cuban Pewees that we saw on Abaco did not closely match the depiction of this species in BWI. This discrepancy may be due to plumage variation on a seasonal or geographical basis.
1) Wings: BWI shows Cuban Pewees as lacking wingbars and pale tertial edgings, but we saw only one bird that looked that way. Many had dull wingbars, and several had wingbars well within the range of western Willow Flycatchers. Birds with wingbars also typically had pale tertial edgings. The primary projection was short, as shown in BWI, about the same projection as is seen in western Willow Flycatchers.
2) Head: The BWI shows Cuban Pewees with a concolorous dark olive head, excepting a paler throat and a white crescent behind the eye. We found that the face usually had a grayish wash, causing it to contrast with the crown- distinctly but not dramatically. The crown was concolorous with the olive back, but neither seemed as dark as the drawing in BWI. The slight crested head-shape shown in BWI is typical, but birds would not uncommonly flatten their heads for extended periods of time. And finally, the lores almost always looked pale grayish. This can be seen to some extent in the photo in BGB. At a distance, the pale lores combined with the post-ocular crescent to give an eye-ringed appearance not entirely dissimilar to that of a 'Western' Flycatcher.
3) Bill: The shape from below was empid like, most resembling a 'Western' Flycatcher to my eye. The bill was bright pinkish with a variably dark tip. This darkness did not cut across the tip, but rather formed a distinct blackish chevron paralleling the outer edge of the bill. This is different from any pattern I can recall seeing in wood-pewees or empids.
4) Underparts: We did not see one bird that looked buffy underneath. The belly and chest typically had an even wash of dull pale olive over faded yellowish hues. This was somewhat reminiscent of a dull 'Western' Flycatcher. There was an occasional vested appearance to the chest, but this was the exception not the rule. Finally, the undertail coverts were not typically brighter than the belly, and in the one or two birds that did have brighter undertail coverts, they were yellowish not ochre-buff as shown in BWI. The ochre-buff undertail coverts is shown in the photo in BGB, but we saw none like that on Abaco in January.
5) Tail: The long, flared, notched appearance shown in BWI might seem to be an exaggeration, but we found it to be characteristic of Cuban Pewees and a notable feature. Upon landing, a Cuban Pewee would often flick its tail up a couple times. After that, a subtle side to side movement can often be seen. BWI refers to this as a tail "quiver".
Loggerhead Kingbird (Tyrannus caudifasciatus): Overall found the NGS depiction closer to what we saw than that in BWI. Perhaps, this is due to regional variation. Most notably, the crown and ear-coverts were not nearly as dark as shown in BWI and often appeared a bit paler than what is shown in NGS. Furthermore, the forehead often appeared somewhat paler than the rest of the crown and ear-coverts sometimes causing a bit of a "masked" appearance (a bit like that of the Gray Kingbird in NGS). The bill looked large, more like that in NGS as opposed to BWI.
The Loggerheads we saw did show a pale tip to the tail, but rarely to the extent shown in BWI. The pale tip was often narrow and varied from whitish to buff to somewhat rusty (one bird only). The tail sometimes appeared notched, a mark attributed to Gray Kingbird. The very base of the undertail did not appear white as shown in BWI. The undertail coverts typically had a faint yellow wash, as shown in BWI. In some birds, however, this was brighter and the color extended farther up onto the belly. Finally, on eight birds we were able to view the uppertail coverts, and in each of these birds, this tract formed a narrow rusty band. Whether this is true in all plumages, or these birds just happened to be immatures, I don't know.
Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneoviridis): I have but a tad to add to the superb article by PW and Susan Smith in Birding (December 1990, pp. 264-271). Note that all birds we saw well were in adult plumage.
To us, the Bahama Swallows looked far more elegant in flight than Tree Swallows. Some of this difference was undoubtedly due to the long tail, but the wings also seemed longer and more tapered, giving these birds a silhouette much like that of a Barn Swallow. Also, I would like to emphasize that the differences in face pattern seemed readily apparent.
Bahama Mockingbird (Mimus gundlachii): Only a couple points here. The back streaking on the 6 or so Bahama Mocks we saw was nowhere near as evident as that shown in the NGS or even BWI. Also, the auriculars were not as well-defined as shown in the NGS and again were closer to what is shown in the BWI.
Thick-billed Vireo (Vireo crassirostris): I have nothing to add to the fine paper by PW Smith et al. (1990) in American Birds, 44:372-376. There is also a nice photo in BGB. Birders should be aware that the NGS drawing of TB Vireo is highly inaccurate and the entire vireo plate in BWI is quite poor (I must emphasize- as a whole, the plates in BWI are good). Thus, a look at Smith et al. is important for all interested in this topic.
'Bahama' Yellow-throated Warbler (Dendroica dominica flavescens): The description of this distinct form is covered quite well by Dunn and Garrett (1997) in A Field Guide to Warblers of North America. I do have a couple minor points to add: On flavescens, the yellow does extend farther down onto the underparts (as stated by Dunn and Garrett). Perhaps more easily noted, however, is that the yellow of flavescens fades away as one goes more posterior, whereas continental YTWA show a very sharp demarcation between the yellow of the throat/upper chest and the white of the lower chest/belly. Also, the longer bill of flavescens appears, at times, quite dramatic and the curve can almost look creeper-like. This taxa commonly forages on branches and trunks, using this bill to probe beneath the bark.
Black-faced Grassquit (Tiaris bicolor): These are dumpy, stubby-billed, short-tailed birds. The NGS depictions are poor, but the BWI are better. My quibbles with the BWI are as follows: the bill is stubbier and more rounded- looking more like that of a WC Seedeater. The head is rounder and "cuter" than shown. For female BFG's, the overall head and underpart color is browner with less of a gray hue (but note, the subtle olive hues to the back/wings are correct). Females usually show a pale brown eyering. For males, their plumage is quite variable, with only a minority appearing as extensively black beneath as the bird in the BWI. Some showed black down to the upper chest only, and some birds were not quite as dark as depicted. Perhaps these were immatures.
Steve Mlodinow (please contact me if you want the full trip list)