SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM


Magnificent Frigate male Wikipics
Magnificent Frigatebird

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM 

I have recently been looking at hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies. There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller, less exotic wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved an outing here. I re-blogged the chart from BCS early last year. In the meantime site followers and site hits have surprisingly increased considerably, but I suspect only the dedicated make time to sift through any blog’s archives…  Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves. 

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Whitetailed Tropicbird WikiPicWhite-tailed Tropicbird

(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

Wilson' Plover male Wikipic

Wilson’s Plover

(Examples include avocets, black skimmer, oystercatchers, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (Impressively some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Great Egret Wikipic
Great Egret

(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

These lists were put together in useful chart form. Please check with BCS (link above) if you want to ‘borrow’ itseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientistImage Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – good old wiki

ABACO FROM SPACE: NASA / ISS VIEWS 225 MILES ABOVE THE BLUE PLANET


STS060-84-32

ABACO FROM SPACE:  NASA  /  ISS VIEWS 225 MILES ABOVE THE BLUE PLANET

I have had another look through NASA‘s stock of Bahamas images taken from the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION. They come in differing formats. Over time the Station’s orbit takes it directly over or close to Abaco. In the past I have posted images of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy taken from space; and one of the astonishing Bahama variations of the colour BLUE. Here is a further selection.

The first two images show an orbit from north to south. I have annotated the first for those unfamiliar with the geography of Abaco. I assume the next was taken only a second or two later, with the whole of the southern tip / National Park / Hole-in-the-Wall area of Abaco now shown.

Abaco Map NASA:ISSA annotated STS060-84-33

This image gives an idea of the underwater connection between the island land masses. Here, a corrugated underwater sequence of ridges and troughs can be seen linking the southern end of Abaco with the south western end of Grand Bahama. Moore’s Island and, barely visible below it, Gorda (‘Castaway’) Cay rise above sea level between the two larger islands. The Berry Is. and Great Harbour Cay can be seen bottom left; Eleuthera snakes downwards bottom right. [At Rick Guest's suggestion, I have rotated the image 90˚ from the original to make sense of a view distorted by angle (the space station's), earth curvature and my own misinterpretation... It makes far more sense now, and I have corrected geographic errors accordingly... I've also added an annotated aeroplane's-eye view below it, taken from much closer to the earth and therefore less subject to distortion. Many thanks, Rick]STS108-724-71 copyAbaco Map  - Island relationships

Abaco seen from the southeast. Little Abaco and Grand Bahama are at the top, and all are shown inter-connected underwater. The reef chain of the Abaco Cays – the world’s third longest barrier reef – can clearly be seen on the rightISS017-E-12812

This image appears to be a blow-up of the sharper ‘filmic’ second one above. The detail has become hazy and indistinct, though part of the island-long ribbon of highway remains clearly visible. Time for a photo-enhancing experiment…
NASA clip

I played around with the contrast and colour settings of the photo above, to see what effect it produced (below). The most marked result is that areas of low water  - the coastline, the underwater high ground, the Marls and mangrove swamps, the low water of Cherokee Sound – became vividly highlighted. I don’t know what the small russet patches are, particularly visible in the Marls. My (ill-)educated guess is that they represent mangrove / mud islands that are underwater at high tide only, and that were in tidal transition as the Space Station passed overhead. Any ideas welcomed via the comment box.NASA clip - Version 2

QUEEN ANGELFISH (Holacanthus ciliaris) – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (2)


Queen Angelfish Holacanthus ciliaris

QUEEN ANGELFISH (Holacanthus ciliaris)  - BAHAMAS REEF FISH (2)

The Queen Angel is one of several reef fish species where the difference in colouring between juveniles and adults is marked.  They are commonly found in the waters of Florida and the Bahamas, with a range extending to the Gulf of Mexico. Adults can grow to 3.5 lbs (to mix metric with avoirdupois) and they can live up to 15 years. Like all Angelfish, they rely on their pectoral fins for propulsion as they forage on the reefs for their mixed diet of sponges, coral, plankton, algae, and even jellyfish. As the photo below shows, they have no problem swimming upside down…

QUEEN ANGELFISH (JUVENILE) Juvenile Queen Angel ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

Evidence suggests that adult Queen Angels may form ‘monogamous’ pairings. Brief research in the factosphere suggests that the proposition is somewhat tenuous. Maybe pairs just like hanging out - possibly to gain some territorial advantage – and anthropomorphising that into lifelong partnership terms may be overstating the relationship… Whether wed for life or not, the actual mating process is remarkably efficient. The pair snuggle up close, simultaneously releasing large quantities of sperm and tens of thousands of eggs. The fertilised eggs hatch within a day. Respect!

QUEEN ANGELFISH (ADULT)Queen Angel fish ©Melinda Riger GB ScubaQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaQueen Angelfish (juv) ©Melinda Riger @GBS

Photo Credits for the amazing main images: ©Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba), with thanks; header image WikiPic

RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013


Ricky Johnson, Abaco, Bahamas

FOR RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013 

Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 1

No one who knew Ricky, or even merely met him, could doubt his charisma, his infectious enthusiasm for life, and for Abaco and its natural history. His Abaco Nature Tours were legendary. As non-islanders, we knew that a day out in Ricky’s company would be a hectic and memorable one. He knew where all the birds were to be found – and enticed the shy ones out of the coppice with his trademark calls. He was all-seeing and all-knowing – information about Abaco’s natural history, social history, geology, poisonous plants and bush medicine would stream from him irrepressibly throughout the day. Ask him a question? He’d know the answer. He seemed never so happy as when he spotted something and pulled the truck over, leaping out with the door open so all could hear his running commentary as he explained the properties of some small plant that most would have failed to notice. Accompanied, of course, by a gag and THAT laugh.


Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 3

In many ways, it is impertinent for occasional blow-ins to become involved in what is the island’s grief over Ricky’s tragically young passing. However in the short time we knew him – far too short – we both came to feel we had known him for many years. That was the Ricky effect. He was a joy to know, and we will remember him with joy as well as with sadness.

Ricky Johnson Pishing Woodstars Crossing Rocks Abaco

Land Crab : Ricky Johnson 2

ABACO HISTORY: SHIPS, MAPS & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL


Schooner (Wiki)

I have posted several times about Hole-in-the-Wall, the geological feature and historic nautical landmark at the southern tip of Abaco. I’ve covered the frankly concerning 15-mile trip to reach it and the eponymous lighthouse;  its history in both maps and pictures; and its destruction by Hurricane Sandy last October. A full index of the related Hole-in-the Wall posts can be found at the foot of this page (most recent first). I am returning to one specific early picture of HitW because of interesting information supplied by Capt Rick Guest.

THE PICTURE The lovely aquatint below is by J. Wells, based on a sketch by a naval officer (“Half-Pay”), published in the 1803 NAVAL CHRONICLE by founder J.Gold of Shoe Lane, London. It’s quite small picture, measuring 5½” x 9″. As I said in the original post, “you may be looking at a screen clip of a scan of the book plate of the earliest surviving depiction of Hole-in-the Wall. If anyone knows of an older one, please get in touch. And can anyone identify what kind of sailing vessels these are (I wouldn’t know a brigantine from a clipper…)?”.

THE SHIPS I am now better informed about historic ships (though no wiser). I am very grateful to Rick Guest for his various contributions, including his ID of the ships in the aquatint: “The vessel on the left (west) is a Topsail (‘tops’l’) SCHOONER. Because of the angle on the other vessel, my guess is it’s a BRIG. Brigs have 2 masts, usually with a large ‘Spanker’ (aft sail).” The schooner is flying the Union Jack. The two rowing boats setting off from the ships seem from the detail to be heading towards land – perhaps to find fruit or other provisions.

hole-in-the-wall-print-1803

THE GEOLOGY Besides showing Hole-in-the-Wall between the 2 ships (as it was until Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012), there is an additional feature that I did not originally remark on. To the right of the aquatint is a single rocky islet. Its left side and the corresponding end of the mainland clearly evidence the previous existence of another longer-arched hole, its roof presumably long gone by 1803. Earlier maps make no reference to a second Hole, though it’s possible the oldest refer to the larger, more significant hole until it collapsed and left the smaller hole to bear the name. At all events, the islet to the right in the aquatint is now largely submerged, though it can be seen from an aerial view. If anyone has a photo of it taken from the sea, with the promontory and lighthouse behind, please get in touch.

Hole-in-the-Wall aerial view

MAPS

I have found some more images of historic maps of Abaco to add to the earlier collection.

1. Johannes van Keulen 1728  c17/ early c18 Dutch cartographer. The top image of two is from a less well-reproduced edition, possibly an early one. The HitW area is uncompromisingly called ‘Hole Rok’. This is a rare instance of another ‘Hole Rok’ being marked of the south-west tip of Abaco. The main island itself is often described at this time as I. Lucaj(y)onesque, or similar derivative from the word ‘LUCAYA’ (Lucyan people being the early inhabitants of the Bahamas region). Notable here is the use of the word ‘I. Abbaco’ for a cay on the east side rather than the whole island.

van Keulen mod

This second much clearer (and later?) print of the same van Keulen map demonstrates why Hole-in-the-Wall is of such historic importance to the Abacos. It clearly marks the only settlement of any significance known to seafarers and cartographers of the time. Other contemporary maps are the same. It is the only named place on Abaco. Buildings are even shown here, though nowhere else on the island. It may well be fair to conclude that until at least 1800, HitW was the ‘capital’ of Abaco. Nowadays it is simply a functioning lighthouse in urgent need of attention and repair, with the abandoned buildings of the lighthouse station clustered round it (the light was automated in 1995). There is no settlement and there are no dwellings, not even visible ruins.van Keulen 1728

2. Thomas Kitchin 1782 Kitchin was a well-known English c18 cartographer who famously mapped the counties of Britain. He also worked in the Caribbean for a time. The clip below is taken from his map “West Indies according to Best Authorities“. The image doesn’t do the map justice. I own it (thanks, Mrs RH) and had just framed it when someone asked for a quick photo, so it is taken through glass (too lazy to remove it – will try to improve the image later). Great Abaco is now specifically named in its own right as an island, though the Abacos group as a whole retains its historic Lucayan name. Again, ‘The Hole in the Rock’ is the only place-name included. As a side-note, Grand Bahama has progressed from ‘Bahama Eyland’ to ‘Great Bahama’Abaco map

3. B.T.Welch, published F.Lucas Jr 1823 The top map shows the entire West Indies. I have located a clearer version of it and added the clip below it showing the detail of the top left corner Northern Bahamas corner

Abaco Map B.T.Welch published F.Lucas Jr 1823One hundred years on from the van Keulen map, and a few familiar names are starting to appear, especially with the ‘Kays’. ‘Hole of the Rock’, as it was now called, is still almost the only named place on the main island. I can’t make out what the bearing and date under the name means – any suggestions welcome. In passing, I note that ‘Gordo K(ay)’ is named, the earliest mention I have found. It is now of course ‘Disney Island’, and good luck to it… ‘Great Bahama’ has now become. finally, Grand Bahama.Abaco B.T.Welch published F.Lucas Jr 1823

4. George Cram 1898 This map demonstrates how, even in relatively modern times, mapmakers can take their eye off the globe, as it were, and go wrong. True, ‘Hole in the Rock’ is named and its lighthouse (completed 1836) is marked. However, some of the attributed place-names seem surprising – for example, Moore’s Island has strangely been called Moose Isl. And for a map not much more than 100 years old, in the ‘Superior Atlas of the World‘, the general topography of Abaco is way off the mark. Either that or the Crossing Rocks area in the lower quarter of the island below “Cheering Sound” – a slim land-narrow just few metres wide from east to west coast – has been on a crash diet in the intervening century… It’s basically the width of the road with a beach on either side.

Abaco 1898 George Cram

LIST OF PREVIOUS HitW POSTS

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: THE ‘HOLE’ THAT’S NO LONGER A WHOLE December 9, 2012

HOLE-IN-THE WALL ABACO: “MIND THE GAP” – A NEW ISLET IS BORN November 8, 2012

ABACO’S ‘HOLE-IN-THE-WALL’ BEFORE SANDY DEMOLITION: FIRST & LAST EVER IMAGES November 5, 2012

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK November 3, 2012

 HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO: HISTORIC 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT May 23, 2012

 ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS April 8, 2012

 “TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…” A TRIP TO HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO May 25, 2011

 

SPOTTED DRUM FISH – BAHAMAS REEF FISH (1)


SPOTTED DRUM FISH Equetus punctatus BAHAMAS REEF FISH (1)

This post is the first of a planned series on Bahamian reef fish. Those who follow this blog (I thank you both) may recall with horror (or worse, pity) my own efforts with reef fish, using a tiny cellphone-sized video camera.  Misty stills culled from video footage. Enthusiastically wobbly movies as I struggle to swim and breathe simultaneously in an alien element. I am more underwater CLOUSEAU than COUSTEAU. However, thanks to Melinda Riger, who with husband Fred runs GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA, I have kind permission to borrow and display images from her stock of wonderful reef fish photographs.

The spotted drum fish (or Jack-knife fish) belongs to a large worldwide family, the Sciaenidae. Besides other drum varieties, the family includes ‘croakers’. These species are all named for the repetitive throbbing or drumming sounds they make. This involves the fish beating its abdominal muscles against its swim bladder. If I find out the reason for this (Species communication? Food call? Alarm? Warning? A piscine ‘advance’? Happiness?) I will add it here in due course. Here an example of an atlantic croaker from the excellent DOSITS site (Discovery of Sounds in the Sea)


The spotted drum is one of the few fish of the species to inhabit coral reefs – most are bottom-dwellers (often in estuaries), avoiding clear water. These fish tend to be nocturnal feeders, feeding on small crabs, shrimp and small invertebrates. As far as I can make out they are solely (or primarily) carnivore, and do not graze on algae of other reef plant life.

Drumfish

Drumfish

The photos above are of adult spotted drums. The ones below are of juveniles, and show the remarkable growth-pattern of these fish, from the fragile slender creature in the top image, through the intermediate phase of the one below it (with the amazing brain coral), to the striking adult versions above. People like to keep these pretty fish in aquariums; fine, I’m sure there are plenty to go round, but these ones look pretty happy to me in their natural reef environment…

Juvenile Drum Fish (pre-school)Juvenile Drumfish 2 ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

Juvenile drum fish (school-age)

Juvenile Drumfish ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba(Header image credit: Wiki-Cheers)

Finally, I’ve just come across this short video from a “Florida Aquarium”, showing how these fish swim. It rather looks as though it has been fin-clipped for some reason… or just damaged, maybe

BMMRO: WHALE ETC SIGHTINGS; BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES; WINTER NEWSLETTER


D

Blainville’s Beaked Whale, Abaco, Bahamas

SIGHTINGS REPORT OCT – DEC 2012

The last quarter of 2012 produced relatively few open-ocean CETACEAN sightings, not least because of a reduction in spotting trips during the period, with some members of the team elsewhere in the world completing their research. SIRENIAN activity is thankfully on the increase, with reporting opportunities increased by the manatees’ preference for sticking close inshore, usually in harbour areas. Georgie has gained her first yellow spot as Abaco’s only resident manatee following her long trip over from the Berry Is. (and away from mother Rita) last summer. She has  taken up residence in Cherokee. She performed a worrying vanishing trick during Hurricane Sandy, holing up (presumably) in seagrass off-shore, and (definitely) in an inshore channel for some of the time. She went AWOL again before Christmas, but has returned to Cherokee in good condition after a short vacation. Having shed her tag (several times) it was not possible to track her. The big plus is that she has proved capable of independent living, and has not become reliant on proximity to humans and their offerings of cabbage leaves etc… This photo was taken at Cherokee a few days ago.

Manatee Georgie, Abaco, Bahamas

The other notable new entry is a manatee sighting in the Freeport area of Grand Bahama. A single photo exists – a head shot – but it hasn’t been possible to identify the creature as a known one. (S)he may be a new visitor to the Bahamas. People in the area are asked to report any further sightings in the area to the BMMRO – and if possible to get a picture!
BMMRO CETACEAN SIGHTINGS OCT:DEC 12

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

RANGE MAP                                                         IUCN RATING “DATA DEFICIENT”

        

Mid-frequency broadband sounds of Blainville’s beaked whales

Recent research has been carried out on the sound variations of this relatively little-understood species of whale. “Recordings from acoustic tags show that five Blainville’s beaked whales produced mid-frequency broadband sounds on all of their deep dives, with each sex producing two different sound types. These broadband sounds are atypical of the regular echolocation sounds previously described for this species. One male produced a total of 75 sounds over four dives, between the depths of 109 and 524 meters, and four females produced a total of 71 sounds over 18 dives, between the depths of 305 and 1289 meters. Ninety-six percent of the male sounds and 42 percent of the female sounds were produced before the onset of foraging echolocation sounds, and all were produced before the deepest point of the dives. These sounds may be candidate communication signals, with their production timed to mitigate the risk of both predation and hypoxia (oxygen deprivation).”

The report includes sample sounds from the 3 BBWs shown below, and the one heading the page. I haven’t found a way to embed the sounds, but I am working on it (there’s a time -consuming method involving conversion to MP3, but maybe another day…)

Blainville’s Beaked Whales, Abaco, Bahamas Blainville's Beaked Whale AbacoDA

Thanks to the prolific DEAR KITTY for a cross-reference to this topic on her website, featuring a fine video of  BBW in French Polynesia

Finally, the action-packed, information-filled, image-laden 4 page winter newsletter. Click below to open.

BMMRO WINTER NEWSLETTER 2012 (Jan13)

Georgie Manatee BMMRO SUPPORT LOGO

mantsw~1

TAKING THE PSITTACIDAE: DISTANT COUSINS OF THE ABACO PARROT?



ABACO PARROTS MM 4 ©Melissa Maura
Abaco Parrot

TAKING THE PSITTACIDAE: DISTANT COUSINS OF THE ABACO PARROT?

Geographical boundaries are an elastic concept at Rolling Harbour and occasionally extend to other parts of the globe, especially the UK. Sometimes this is for comparative purposes: bonefishing -v- trout fishing, for example (“no contest” – yes, I hear you, Abaconian piscators! BUT…).

*Lyrical / Pastoral Mode* Yesterday, the first sunny day for a while, I was ambling round the park at the end of our London street taking a ‘computer break’. It was late afternoon (ie just after lunch, in winter in the UK), and the sun was beginning to sink. Suddenly a terrific row erupted in the trees along the park’s edge. It sounded so like a heated parrot debate in the coppice at Delphi or at BPS that I stopped to look. Not quite so loud, more shrill and, well, insistently nagging. Here is a participant taking a short rest from the discussions

Parakeet 1It’s not a great shot, I realise, taken from street level to tree-top with a very small camera. This was one of a flock of 20 or so ROSE-RINGED (RINGNECKED) PARAKEETS, coming back to roost. There are many thousands of these birds in the London suburbs forming massive flocks, roosting in their hundreds in parks and green areas. They are the feral offspring of parakeets that escaped into the wild some 30 years ago. The population is gradually spreading round the south of England; they are a hardy breed, well able to withstand the whims and vagaries of the British weather of which we Brits are so proud. And they surely do make a racket. On Abaco, the population density is such that a bit of rawking by parrots may cause some problems, but in fairly limited areas only (I stand to be corrected by people driven nearly mad by the sound). Now imagine all that noise in a city of over 8 million people. Calls for selective culls of these non-indigenous birds are becoming more insistent; some flocks are so huge that besides all the squawking causing a nuisance, car paintwork and so forth takes a bit of a hit, if I may put it like that.

Parakeet 4

We frequently get the parakeets in the garden, normally singly or in pairs – especially when the feeders are full. They prefer to feed at awkward-seeming angles, upside down being a particular favourite. Until yesterday I’d never really made a connection with the Abaco parrot. I know which species I’d prefer to have in our garden, but I’m not saying, of course. Despite its ill-defined boundaries, this blog is a strictly opinion-neutral and controversy-free territory…

Parokeets Wiki

“A word in your ear – don’t trust those two above… they’re, like, soooooooo FERAL” 

ABACO PARROTS © BNT

THE PLURAL OF ‘OCTOPUS’ & RELATED CEPHALOPOD MYSTERIES…


octopus

THE PLURAL OF ‘OCTOPUS’ & RELATED CEPHALOPOD MYSTERIES…

The correct plural of ‘octopus’ is a singular mystery wrapped in tentacles and hidden beneath a rock. Shall we have the grammatical discourse first, or save it for later? Let’s have some octopi  octopuses octopodes to look at first… [oh, and it's definitely not 'octopussies', not even for 007] 

An octopus courtesy of underwater photographer Melinda Riger, who with her husband Fred runs GRAND BAHAMA SCUBAOctopus 2 ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

12 TASTY OCTOPUS FACTS TO ASTOUND YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS

  • Their 8 ‘arms’ come in pairs ( the back two act more like legs) and they are bilaterally symmetric
  • Their beak is hard, but they have no internal or external skeleton (so they can squeeze into tight crannies)
  • They paralyse their prospective meals with saliva from their beak; or drill holes in molluscs, stun them with venom and rip them out
  • They defend themselves with squirted ink, jet propulsion, camouflage or venom
  • All species are venomous; only one species is deadly to humans (not found in the Bahamas)
  • They are able to detach an arm (autotomy) to distract predators with the wriggling shed limb
  • The male’s 3rd right arm is the one used for reproduction… (stop giggling at the back)
  • Well, you asked: 1. special hidden extra arm 2. packets of sperm 3. into the female’s ‘mantle cavity’
  • No, I don’t know any more than that – ask your father.
  • Oh, and the males tend to die within months of mating, deftly using death to sidestep parenting 8-limbed offspring
  • They are unlikely to make a good pet for your family. Those who try, fail
  • They are eaten throughout the world, sometimes alive (e.g. Korea)

Another photo of Melinda’s, showing how an octopus can tuck itself away inside a small gap in the rocks.  It can still keep an eye on you, thoughOctopus ©Melinda Riger GB Scuba

This remarkable picture (thanks, Wiki) shows an octopus unscrewing a container lid

Octopus unscrewing container lid (Wiki)

THE CORRECT PLURAL OF ‘OCTOPUS’

There’s much debate about this comparatively unimportant question. Not even an octopus would care. The viable candidates are: octopuses; octopodes; and octopi.  Since all are in common usage, none is ‘wrong’, though some are more correct than others…

1. OCTOPUSES An anglicised grammatical progression of a latin-sounding word to a logical plural, similar to ‘virus’ and viruses’. Only an extreme pedant would want to argue for ‘viri’ or ‘virii’. Similarly with bonus: “We all got boni for Christmas”. No, you didn’t. They were bonuses.

2. OCTOPODES the origin of ‘octopus’ is a Greek word ὀκτάπους, later latinised. The correct plural in Athens would have been ‘octopodes’. It is not derived from a 2nd declension latin noun, as often assumed, in which case the plural might indeed be ‘octopi’ (cf annus / anni; year / years). Using this etymologically accurate form in conversation might lead to a lonely life as people begin to move away from you. But you would still be in the right, if that matters to you so much…

3. OCTOPI see above. In a picky world, this is the least correct of the 3, being a pluralisation based on the wrong root origin (i.e. on latin, not greek), and therefore etymologically unsound. In practice, it’s quick and easy, and everyone knows what you mean, which is largely the point of language, I guess. Personally, I’d use octopuses if I ever used the word.

SUMMARY 2 is the most technically correct, and also the most likely to get you chucked off the side of the boat. Fully clothed. 1 is a logically correct anglicisation. 3 is a technically incorrect form, but long usage has made it acceptable to all but verbal Luddites. Push them off the boat too.

If you bothered to plough through that, you deserve some quality recreation. Even if you gave up in despair, you deserve these 2 videos (both taken in the Bahamas), which show the incredible way that these creatures move. Those who have never seen a live octopus will be amazed at their bodily transformations. If you only have time for one, see the top one – professionally done, and shorter. The lower one is a good amateur video, with a certain amount of diver  heavy breathing and gurgling.

ADDENDUM This was never going to be easy! What about ‘cactus / cacti’, do I hear? Yes, cactus was known to Greeks as κάκτος (kaktos); but it was equally known to the Romans as ‘cactus’, not as a word that had to be imported by them from the Greeks and adapted. So the word’s root is as much latin as greek. No doubt that explains similar latin-origin ‘i’ plurals such as alumnus / alumni and stimulus / stimuli.

While fact-checking – a rare pleasure for me – I discovered a cheerful ‘Merriam-Webster’ video dealing authoritatively with the vexed ‘octopus plural’ debate (best skip the terrible ad)

Octopus on the move (Wiki)

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK BUTTERFLY (Eumaeus atala)


Atala Hairstreak Logo

THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA BUTTERFLY Eumaeus atala

I’ve been planning a post about this lovely small butterfly for some time. I posted a close-up photo of one taken last summer at ATLALA PICS  (worth clicking to enlarge to see its cute curly tongue) but I wanted to find out more about them and their strikingly-coloured abdomens. This led me to the excellent butterfly (& co) website of STEPHANIE SANCHEZ. Click her name to be transported to her intriguingly and Greekly named HEURISTRON pages for a wealth of Florida-based lepidoptera information. With Steph’s kind approval, the following post is based on her Atala work, and includes her amazing images of the life cycle of the Atala with captions. The blue links below will take you  to the relevant pages of Steph’s site, where you will find plenty of advice about Atala-friendly plants.

THE STAGES FROM EGG TO BUTTERFLY

Atala Butterfly lays eggs on Coontie

 EGGS are laid on COONTIE the Atala Butterfly HOST PLANT (clusters of 10 – 50)

LARVAE Red caterpillars with yellow markings, hatch from the eggs and eat the host plant. They shed their skin several times while they’re growing up. (You can look up “larval instar” if you want to get more technical than that.)

CHRYSALIS The caterpillars eat, and grow, and then they hang from the bottom of a leaf on the Coontie, shed their skin one last time, and turn into a chrysalis.

BUTTERFLY Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into the butterfly. When it’s done, it crawls out and hangs upside-down to extend and dry its wings before it flies away.

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Up close, the white rounded eggs have tiny hairs on them

Atala Butterflies lay eggs on Coontie        Atala Eggs on Coontie

COONTIE (Zamia floridana or pumila)

Coontie

The eggs hatch into these bright red and yellow caterpillars

Atala larvae on Coontie                                                          Atala butterfly larvae (caterpillar)

When the caterpillars have eaten and grown enough, they hang under the leaf, shed their skin a final time, and turn into a chrysalis. The one below is undergoing the change; you can see how different it looks from the bright red caterpillars

Atala butterfly larvae making a chrysalis

On a very new chrysalis the yellow dots on the back of the caterpillar are still visible

Atala butterfly chrysalides

Then as it ages, the chrysalis darkens to a more opaque soft brown that darkens more the older it gets

 Atala butterfly chrysalis

Finally, a day or so before the butterfly is ready to emerge, you can start to see the red abdomen through the bottom of the chrysalisAtala butterfly chrysalides

 The little spiky brown splotches near the chrysalides are the shed skins of the larvaeAtala butterfly chrysalis

When they first crawl out of their chrysalis, their abdomen is swollen with fluid and their wings are squished and tiny. They hang upside-down and excrete fluid, and also pump fluid into their wings to expand them

Atala butterfly emerging from chrysalisAtala butterfly emerging

This is a good time to hold them; they can’t fly away. Be sure to let them hang upside-down though, or their wings will dry wrong and they will be unable to fly. Also watch out for the goo they poo because it can stain your clothes

Atala butterfly emerging

emerged Atala butterfly expanding wingsAtala butterfly on fingeremerged Atala butterfly expanding wings

All of these Atala Photographs were taken in Broward County, Florida by ©Stephanie SanchezAtala butterfly on chrysalis

WHY THE BRIGHT RED ABDOMEN? I suppose it’s obvious that this is one of nature’s warning signals. But are these insects inherently toxic, or are the toxins acquired by ingestion or some other process? Lifting wholesale from Wiki, which puts it as well as I could (+ useful links), “The host plants contains toxic chemicals, known as cycasins, and the bright coloration of the adult is believed to be aposematic. Birds and lizards attempt to prey on the adults, but find them distasteful and learn to avoid the brightly patterned butterflies.”

Steph advises “if you want Atala Butterflies in your butterfly garden, you’ll need at least a dozen Coontie plants to keep a colony alive; more is better. They tend to stay close to home, so they’re a fun butterfly to garden for because you can continue to enjoy watching them in your garden after they become butterflies. Some other butterflies tend to emerge and fly off.”

STEPH’S LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- ATALA NECTAR -∞- HOST PLANTS

RH LINKS BUTTERFLIES -∞- HEURISTIC  (because I didn’t know what ‘Heuristron’ means… we learn stuff here!)

OTHER LINKS LITTLE BUTTERFLIES (Atala etc page of Barbara Woodmasnsee’s butterfly website. Nice pics!)

ART FOR THE [NATIONAL] PARKS: 3 DAY EVENT IN AID OF ABACO’S WILDLIFE


Atala Hairstreak LogoSUPPORT ABACO WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND THE WORK OF THE BNT

LOCAL ARTISTS & ARTISANS; LECTURES; ENVIRONMENTAL GAMES; FRESH MARKET

(Help to make sure that the creatures pictured below stay off the IUCN ‘threatened species’ list) 

Art for the Parks: Abaco National Parks

FAREWELL 2012… WELL HELLO, 2013, HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID!


DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

FAREWELL 2012… WELL HELLO, 2013, HERE’S LOOKING AT YOU, KID!

It’s sunset time for 2012, with all its ups, downs and vaguely sideways sways. Conveniently, by way of illustration, here is a not-untypical sunset taken from the balcony of the Delphi Club as the sun sinks down towards the horizon of coppice and pine forest. A moment of metaphorical magic… (& no Ph*t*sh*p)Sunset Delphi

However (Mayan calendar permitting), there is always a new day a few hours away. And with it, an extended (indeed, horribly overstretched) metaphor for the New Year. This photo was taken from our balcony on the other side of the building at around 6.30 a.m. The seagull on the right was not an intentional inclusion, though I may as well that pretend that it was… And yes, the sea on the east side of Abaco really does tilt slightly downhill to the south; the effect is caused by submarine reef vortices as the ocean floor deepens. Oh. Maybe not. It’s photographer error – I forgot to straighten the image.Sunrise DelphiDuring 2013 you will find much the same going on at Rolling Harbour as before. There’s some housework to be done on the blog, I notice. There will be the usual 10 or so posts a month on much the same themes – birds, fish, marine mammals, plants, shells, conservation and so forth, with photos to match. Maybe some more ill-conceived attempts at humour. The occasional ground-breaking scoop. 100,000 hits is now well within my sights (from being a distant dream)… so please don’t desert now!

For those with iPhones or iPads may I re-recommend the new app “Click242 Nature” (available FREE on iTunes), which is a Bahamas-based portal to all the types of thing this blog deals with, and the organisations that deal with them. For details click HERE (I shyly add that this blog features in the section ‘Science Blogs’).

So, Happy New Year, Good Luck in 2013, and see you around, I hope…