BIRDS, PLASTIC & CONSERVATION: A CONTROVERSIAL AD…


marine_debris_program_noaa-1

Plastic marine debris washed up on a beach (NOAA)

BIRDS, PLASTIC & CONSERVATION: A CONTROVERSIAL AD…

Rolling Harbour is a broadly neutral territory. We occasionally do ‘opinionated’ round here. We are not afraid to express views. But we try to avoid controversy and in particular, politics in its broadest sense. There have been occasional lapses into outrage – one example was the huge cruise ship taking a shortcut (allegedly, I had better add) that trashed significant areas of irreplaceable coral reef and smeared poisonous anti-fouling paint along the seabed, affecting reef life for decades and… Stop me right there!

The most sensitive area is conservation. Some issues are straightforward; with others the balance of what is right and wrong is more debatable. One particular aspect that can be problematic is in the presentation of information. We are all familiar with charity appeals that cajole with images of happy children or sweet puppies. We also see the ones with horrific images that are uncomfortable or even downright unpleasant to look at. Both can be powerful and valid  ways to raise awareness and attract support. Some of the more extreme images used may actually have the effect of repelling people. The same is true with conservation projects. There are ones illustrated with images that make you go ‘ahhhh’ and smile; others are undeniably distressing and will make you wince with uneasiness.

Piping Plover photo taken at GTC Abaco by Tom Reed for Conserve Wildlife NJ GTCpipl_TR

graphic image by Ian Hutton (UW) of a dead shearwater crammed with plastic debrisShearwater, by Ian Hutton via Uni of Washington

See how you react to this 45 second video from Australia. It is made by Greenpeace – itself a controversial organisation in some eyes – and concerns Coke, plastic and birds. I had no idea what to expect, and it gave me a jolt. It has been the subject of legal action, of alleged censorship and interference from powerful lobbies, and a sizzling amount of anger. It won’t take you long to watch it. Compare how you feel during the first ten seconds with how you feel 30 seconds later…

BIRD SPOTTING ON ABACO? EASY! SPOTTED SANDPIPERS…


Spotted Sandpiper TR FV2

BIRD SPOTTING ON ABACO? EASY! SPOTTED SANDPIPERS…

The Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia is a common winter resident on Abaco. These pretty shorebirds are only spotted part-time – in the breeding season – when they look like this… 

Spotted Sandpiper.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley FV

Spotted Sandpiper (breeding plumage)

Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularia Wiki

Spotted Sandpiper (breeding plumage)

The species sets a fine example for gender equality – role reversal, even. The female Spotted Sandpipers are the first to arrive in the breeding area, with males following on. Once a female has staked out her nesting territory, she is the one to defend it.  A male will then arrive on the scene, and (if approved of) they mate.  Once the eggs are laid the male takes on the egg incubating duties and the subsequent chick care once they hatch. While he is occupied with domestic concerns, the female may take the chance to play away from home and produce eggs with other males. Just imagine if humans of either sex behaved like that… Oh. Sometimes they do apparently (sources: The Daily Snooper; Celeb Shocker!)

The Spotted Sandpiper in non-breeding plumage has no speckles, and looks like this 

Spotted Sandpiper BH (non-breeding 2) FV

Spotted Sandpiper (non-breeding plumage)

 This bird appears to be in an intermediate stage, just starting to acquire the spots

Spotted Sandpiper BH (non-breeding 1) FV

Spotted Sandpiper (intermediate stage)

At the immature stage, these birds look much more delicate

Spotted Sandpiper (imm) BH FV

Spotted Sandpiper (immature)

SpottedSandpipermapSPSA The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America - David Allen Sibley

Image credits: Tom Reed, Bruce Hallett, Tom Sheley, Cornell Lab, Wiki, Sibley

 

 

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


_MG_4668_1280x853_

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

image24

Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1′ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb’; ‘bloody good’; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

IMG_1169

RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLERS ON ABACO


B & W Warbler (f) BH IMG_0482 copy

The Black-and-White Warbler Mniotilta varia is a fairly common winter resident on Abaco. They are the only birds of the genus Mniotilta (“moss-picker” gr.). Unlike most warblers these birds behave rather like nuthatches, creeping along the trunks and branches of trees grubbing insects out of the bark. Pine trees are ideal for this. I remain rather dim about the 37 species of warbler on Abaco. A lot of them are small and yellow. But as soon as I saw one of these for the first time, I was very relieved. I knew exactly what it was – the bird that has been described as ‘a flying humbug’. 

Black & White Warbler.Cross Harbor.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyB & W Warbler BH IMG_9587 copyBlack & White Warbler TR jpg

SUMMER     WINTER
220px-Mniotilta_varia_map.svg

Finally, this is a great short video of this little bird in action. Even if you only watch the first 30 seconds, you will be enchanted…

Image Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley, Tom Reed (my own were too feeble to use…). All are contributors to “The Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco” (Publ. March 2014)

THE CONCH QUEST OF ABACO…


Conch ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

THE CONCH QUEST OF ABACO…

Conchs are gastropods. They are food. They are decoration (anyway, the shells are). For some, they are a living. And on Abaco they are everywhere – alive in the waters, and as shells scattered on  beaches or piled up outside restaurants. So the quest for conch is an easy one. There are fears of overfishing, however, and an active organisation The Bahamas National Conchservation Campaign exists to protect them. Another similar Bahamas organisation is Community Conch.conchs-at-sandy-point-1 We found a nice half-buried conch shell at Sandy Point. It was full of sand grains and tiny shells – mini gastropods and bivalves - that took some time to wash out of the spiralling internal structure. Here are some studies of the shell. IMG_2438IMG_2442IMG_2444IMG_2445IMG_2448IMG_5279IMG_5278 The damage to the shell above is the place where it has been bashed in to enable removal of the occupant. In order to do so, it is necessary to break the strong vacuum that would prevent extraction if you tried by the conventional route. Effectively the conch anchors itself to its shell and must be cut out. The best way to make the hole is with the spiral tip of another conch. This breaks the suction and enables you to prise out the occupant…

935327_499742893413409_191944192_n                                                               CC_logo2

Finally, you can usually rely on me to go off-piste. So here is a video of how to make a conch horn to annoy your friends and neighbours with…

TOP-FIVE CUTE? A BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER ON ABACO


TOP-FIVE CUTE? A BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER ON ABACO

There are plenty of cute little birds on Abaco, as almost anywhere else. The BGG would definitely be in my top 10, and probably shouldering its tiny way into the top 5. This one was in the coppice 20 yards from the Delphi Club. I made some of those irritating (to other humans) ‘pishing’ sounds and, gratifyingly, it popped into sight. Then it started singing.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1

If the colouring / name coincidence doesn’t help with ID, look for the characteristic full white eye-rings. Adults have a dark Frida Kahlo ‘monobrow’, visible in these pictures. They also have a tendency to cock the tail when perching. If you are lucky, you may see a BGG ‘hawking’ for small insects, fluttering off a branch to make the catch and returning to its perch to eat it.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 3

The image below shows the same bird having flown a short distance. I wanted a cocked tail shot, but as I pressed the (what is it? button? knob? shutter? trigger?) pressy thing, the bird started the preliminaries for flying off. The top 3 photos are exactly as taken, with no ‘work’ done bar cropping. The one below had a bit of a sharpen. Not a good photo, but it shows the stance. Then, having seen a cocked tail, I returned to immerse myself in a cocktail – a ‘Delphi Punch’ is a knockout drink!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 4

A DOG’S LIFE: POTCAKES AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Harvey the Potcake Puppy Dog, Abaco

A DOG’S LIFE: POTCAKES AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The POTCAKE DOG is a mixed-breed dog type from the Bahamas & TCI. Its name comes from the congealed rice and pea mixture that local residents traditionally fed dogs. A while ago I posted in more detail about these dogs including TEN VITAL FACTS HERE and about the potcake RESCUE SCHEMES HERE. An updated and expanded list is shown below. Although great favourites as pets, there are sadly a huge number of strays on Abaco that wander, ownerless, around the settlements. Although generally well-tempered as a breed, these feral dogs can occasionally seem aggressive. Many are found, as adults or as pups, in a bedraggled, underfed or injured condition. The lucky ones become rescue dogs and are re-homed (the ‘header dog’ is Harvey, an abandoned puppy that found a happy home). An active spay-and-neuter programme has been established to prevent the spread of unwanted and uncared for dogs. Details of a number of relevant organisations are given below.

NEW See video of Potcake Pup Rescue from the Coopers Town Dump below.

Meanwhile, let’s go to Sandy Point for lunch at Nancy’s. At some stage 2 or 3 dogs are likely to come close, hoping for tit-bits. Some look in poor condition, and it is easy to feel sorry for them. These animals may nevertheless lead companionable and playful lives. After lunch a sandy walk around the point is always an inviting prospect. Recently, we were preceded by 3 dogs that had been near us while we ate. It was great to watch them ahead of us, playing happily together on the narrow beach. Here they are…

“LAST ONE IN IS A WUSSY CAT…”Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 1

“HEY GUYS! I’VE FOUND A CONCH SHELL TO PLAY WITH”Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 4

“LOOK AT ME! I’M FISHING!”Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 3

DOG TIRED…Potcakes at Sandy Point, Abaco 2

ABACO SHELTER Comprehensive one-stop site for info, advice, details of clinics, adoption and donations

POTCAKE RESCUE BAHAMAS  A Facebook Page that includes an Adopt / Donate facility (via Paypal)

BAHAMAS HUMANE SOCIETY Details of spay /neuter programs, clinics, adoptions, and a donation link

THE POTCAKE FOUNDATION  TCI-based, with facts, advice and potcake-tastic merchandise…

ABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES Rolling Harbour page with links to diverse wildlife charities

If you know of other relevant organisations, I’d be pleased to add them to the list – please COMMENT or EMAIL

NEW Thanks, Melinda from DIVE ABACO, for suggesting adding these links

ROYAL POTCAKE RESCUE FB page – Re-homing Abaco potcakes in the US; RPR website  (Judy Marshall).

LITTLE HOUSE BY THE FERRY Amanda’s excellent GTC blog recently posted about the plight of potcakes. Her blog deserves a closer look – there’s a great deal of fascinating information there, both historical and current.

NEW Hollie suggests HUMANE SOCIETY OF GRAND BAHAMA which helped her re-home a potcake

602197_10151320508105308_626676659_n
STOP PRESS By complete coincidence I came across this excellent video of the rescue of some Potcake pups on Abaco within 24 hours of posting the article above. 
NEW ADDITION Part 2 of the Coopers Town Dump Potcake Pups story