“I MUST FLY”: GONE TO ABACO. BACK SOMETIME.
UPDATES AS & WHEN
Photos: Tom Sheley, RH, Charlie Skinner, Melinda, Kaitlyn Blair on FB, RH
There are 8 gull species recorded on Abaco. The 5 species shown here all feature in the new ‘Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco’. The others are the occasional vagrants Black-legged Kittiwake and Black-headed Gull; and the rare winter visitor Great Black-backed Gull. We do in fact have a Black-headed Gull in the archive (in winter plumage), but it was taken on New Providence and wasn’t eligible for inclusion in a book of Abaco birds. Even as a cheat.
* Correct. The image is included solely to enable a laboured & old hat pun on ‘girls & boys’.
A total of 12 tern species have been recorded on Abaco and in Abaco waters. Ever. Some are permanently resident, some are winter visitors, some arrive for the summer and one or two – for example the Arctic Tern – are one-off or vanishingly rare sightings. A few are commonplace, some you may see if you know where to look or are lucky, some would not be worth making a special trip to Abaco to find…
Here are 7 tern species that all feature in the newly published “Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco”. A cunning code devised by Bahamas ornithologist Tony White tells you when they are around (PR, WR, SR = permanent, winter, summer resident; TR means transient) and the likelihood of seeing one at the appropriate time (1 = very likely to 5 = next to no chance). B means ‘breeds on Abaco’.
The header picture shows a line up of Royal Terns perched characteristically facing the breeze on a dead tree far out on the Marls. I took it while we were out bonefishing, and our guide Ishi very tolerantly poled nearer to the birds so I could get a better shot at them with the sun behind me. The ones shown are in an intermediate stage between non-breeding plumage and full breeding plumage, when the ‘caps’ are black. One (shown below) had the full black cap.
The other 5 species recorded are: Sooty Tern, Black tern, Common Tern, Arctic Tern and Forster’s Tern
Photo Credits: Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey, Alex Hughes, RH
WHAT HAS THE GESTATION PERIOD OF A WALRUS (16 MONTHS) AND WEIGHS THE SAME AS A PAIR OF FULLY GROWN PINEAPPLES (2 KILOS)?
A unique bird book is been published and has arrived on Abaco today. Printed in Italy at the end of January, it has made its way from Florence via Bologna, Leipzig, Brussels, Cincinnati, Miami and Nassau. Having spent an unexpectedly long sojourn in Nassau, 2 pallets of books are now safely at the Delphi Club… at last!
The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. It is available for sale now from the Delphi Club in a limited edition of 500. The main features are as follows:
The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well. What are the chances?
BMMRO COLLABORATES WITH NEW PARTNER, ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT
The ATLANTIS BLUE PROJECT is managed by the Atlantis Blue Project Foundation, a private non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and enhancement of global marine ecosystems through scientific research, education, and community outreach. BMMRO is excited to now be a part of this project and in turn has received two grants from the Atlantis Blue Project for 2014
Stranding Response to Support Conservation of Marine Mammals in the Bahamas
Increasing capacity and available funds to respond rapidly to strandings in The Bahamas will increase our ability to determine cause of death and/or successful rehabilitation of marine mammals. At the first stranding workshop held in the Bahamas in 2008, the Honourable Lawrence Cartwright, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources officially opened the workshop stating “I believe the establishment of a Marine Mammal Stranding Network in The Bahamas will serve to promote the conservation of marine mammal species and their habitat by improving the rescue and humane care of stranded marine mammals, advancing stranding science, and increasing public awareness through education.” This funding will provide the resources to train veterinarians on how to work with stranded marine mammals as well as provide the resources to respond to strandings.
Field Research & Outreach to Support Conservation of Bahamas Marine Mammals
Cetaceans are long-lived, highly specialised animals with delayed reproduction and low fecundity, which makes them incapable of rapid adaptation and thus particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts. BMMRO has compiled an unprecedented long-term dataset for the region, which has become increasingly valuable to inform about the baseline ecology of some odontocete species. This research will ensure that this important work continues to fill key gaps in our knowledge about the ecology of marine mammals. Additionally, we will increase awareness and build capacity amongst Bahamians, both of which will contribute to local conservation needs.
For Abaco, the excitement is the sperm whale seen just off the Rocky Point area. More generally for the northern Bahamas, in addition to the manatee Georgie (former temporary resident of Abaco) and others, there was a manatee reported on Eleuthera. It looks as though these gently creatures continue to find the area to their liking.
(Thanks as ever to Charlotte & co at BMMRO for permission to use and adapt their material!)
The AMERICAN WHITE IBIS (Eudocimus albus) has a wide range in the Americas and is a familiar species in the southern United States, especially Florida. It is also found in the Caribbean. On Abaco they are quite rare, appearing sporadically as winter residents. Encountering one is definitely a ‘find’. I know of only one recent sighting when an ibis decided to spend some time on the lake at Treasure Cay Golf Course. Luckily Kasia was not concentrating too hard on her round of golf to the exclusion of all else – and had a camera with her.
The white ibis is more common on other Bahamas islands, for example New Providence (Nassau). Here are some photos taken there by Tony Hepburn and Woody Bracey. Others were taken in Florida.
This is the call of an Ibis in the Florida Wetlands (credit Xeno-Canto / Paul Marvin)
The white ibis is said to be a symbol for courage and optimism because they are supposedly the last birds to shelter from the onset of a hurricane, and the first to venture out as the storm passes. This is of course equally consistent with symbolising extreme foolhardiness… but let it pass.
FASCINATING FACTOIDS The white ibis / hurricane connection is nurtured by the University of Miami, of which the bird is the mascot. The sports teams are called the Hurricanes (or the ‘Canes for cheering purposes). Their endeavours are supported enthusiastically by none other than Sebastian the Ibis. “What does he look like?”, I hear you cry. This:
I had intended to digress further into the mysteries of the Sacred Ibis, symbol of the Ancient Egyptian God Thoth, the God of Learning and Wisdom who ranked with Isis and Osiris as A Top God. But in fact it’s quite a dull area, and 3 pictures and a nice bronze sculpture will give you the general idea.
Credits: Kasia Reid, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Met, Wiki
SNOWY EGRETS (Egretta thula) are small white herons of the Americas, similar to the European Little Egret. The first thing you may notice about them is that they have remarkable bright yellow feet. This distinguishes these birds from all other egret and heron species.
Snowy Egrets eat fish, crustaceans, insects and small reptiles. They have 3 main foraging tactics: (1) Standing still in or on the edge of water to ambush prey (2) Stalking prey in shallow water, often running or shuffling their feet to flush out prey (3) “Dip-fishing” by flying low over water.
In breeding season, Snowy Egrets grow beautiful plumes – “bridal plumage”. At one time these were in great demand as adornments for women’s hats (as with flamingos, parrots and many other decorative species). This reduced the population of the birds to dangerously low levels, from which they have now recovered. Their IUCN rating is now ‘Least Concern’.
Photo Credit: Melissa Maura, with thanks. See more gorgeous parrots HERE
THE SPOTTED TRUNKFISH is a reef fish distinctive for its dark spots on a silvery-white background. It’s very wrong of me to comment, I know, but arguably its appearance is amusing. It probably feels the same about divers with all their gear…
However the trunkfish deserves to be treated with due respect. When touched, they secrete a colourless toxin from glands on their skin. The toxin is only dangerous when ingested, so divers are unlikely to be harmed by the it. Predators however are at risk, and creatures as large as nurse sharks are known to have died as a result of eating a trunkfish.
THE SMOOTH TRUNKFISH is almost a negative of the spotted trunkfish, with white spots on a dark background rather than vice versa. Adults develop hexagonal patterning on their sides. They also secrete toxins and are best left untouched. Their ability to pucker up is impressive…
‘IN THE PINK’: ROSEATE SPOONBILLS IN THE BAHAMAS
ROSEATE SPOONBILLS (Platalea ajaja) are rare visitors to the Northern Bahamas. For Abaco they are classified with the undignified term ‘vagrant’, meaning essentially (a) that you will be very lucky indeed to encounter one, so therefore (b) it is highly unlikely to be worth making a special trip based on the likelihood of seeing one. Try Florida instead.
We saw one once when bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was unmistakeable, but well beyond the effective range of the puny ‘don’t-really-mind-if-it-takes-a-dive’ camera I had with me. The spoonbills in this post were photographed elsewhere in the Bahamas or in two cases, Florida. The wonderful one below of a spoonbill ‘flipping’ a fish was taken there by Ohio bird expert and photographer Tom Sheley.
Unlike herons, spoonbills keep their necks outstretched in flight. They are most likely to be found in marshes, salt-water lagoons and on mudflats. They are gregarious and mix in happily with herons and egrets, though there is some competition for food. Spoonbills nest in shrubs or trees, often mangroves.
Spoonbills tend to get pinker as they get older. As with American Flamingos, the pink colouring derives from their diet, which contains carotenoid pigments. The colouring ranges from pale pink to loud pinks and reds, depending on age and location.
Spoonbills feed in shallow fresh or coastal waters by swinging their bill from side to side while steadily walking through the water, often in groups. The spoon-shaped bill allows it to sift easily through mud for the edible contents – crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, newts and small fish ignored by larger waders. This excellent 1 minute Audubon video shows exactly how they feed, with some white ibises for company.
Photo Credits: Header, Wiki; 1,3,4,5 Woody Bracey; 2 Tom Sheley, 6 Bruce Hallett (RH: nil)
It’s not necessary to prowl around the coppice or lurk in the pine forest to see beautiful birds. They are on the doorstep, sometimes literally. Especially if there are full seed feeders and hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water for the Cuban Emeralds, Bahama Woodstars and other birds with pointy beaks (Bananaquits, for example). Here are are a few from the gardens immediately around the Delphi Club.
This is a TBV recording made with my iPhone.
For details how to record birds (or indeed animals. Or people) with a smart phone and embed the results as an mp3, CLICK HERE
A PAIR OF CAPE MAY WARBLERS
These little birds are autumn / winter visitors, though I have seen one at Delphi in June – it must have like it there and decided to stay on. Strangely, though originally named for one found on Cape May in the c19, there wasn’t another one recorded there for another 100 years…
The French angelfish Pomacanthus paru is found in the western Atlantic and in parts of the eastern Atlantic. They are mainly seen around shallow reefs, often in pairs. They feed on sponges, algae, soft corals and small invertebrates.
Juveniles are extremely useful members of the reef fish community, providing cleaning stations. They service many species including jacks, snappers, morays, grunts, surgeonfishes, and wrasses, removing parasites.
Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Wiki
While a lot of debris sinks, much also floats. Once this marine debris enters the ocean, it moves via oceanic currents and atmospheric winds. Factors that affect currents and winds (for example, El Niño and seasonal changes) also affect the movement of marine debris in the ocean. Debris is often carried far from its origin, which makes it difficult to determine exactly where an item came from.
Marine debris comes in many forms, ranging from small plastic cigarette butts to 4,000-pound derelict fishing nets. Plastic bags, glass, metal, Styrofoam, tires, derelict fishing gear, and abandoned vessels are all examples of debris that often ends up in our waterways.
Marine debris is a problem for all of us. It affects everything from the environment to the economy; from fishing and navigation to human health and safety; from the tiniest coral polyps to giant blue whales.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program works in the U.S. and around the world to research, reduce, and prevent debris in our oceans and coastal waterways. Much of this work is done in partnership with other agencies, non-governmental organizations, academia, industry, and private businesses.The Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, signed into law in 2006, formally created the Marine Debris Program. The Act directs NOAA to map, identify, measure impacts of, remove, and prevent marine debris.
Abandoned and lost fishing gear is a big problem. It entangles and kills marine life and is a hazard to navigation. Based on a model program in Hawaii, the Fishing for Energy program was formed in 2008 to tackle this problem with creative new ideas. The program is a partnership between NOAA, Covanta Energy Corporation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Schnitzer Steel.This program offers the fishing community a no-cost way to dispose of old or derelict fishing gear. Once removed from the environment, the gear is transported to the nearest Covanta Energy-from-Waste facility. About one ton of derelict nets creates enough electricity to power one home for 25 days!
Marine debris may be mistaken by some animals for food or eaten accidently. Often, larger items like nets, fishing line, and abandoned crab pots snare or trap animals. Entanglement can lead to injury, illness, suffocation, starvation, and even death. NOAA is working with many partners to tackle this problem by reducing and preventing marine debris in our oceans and waterways.
We know that marine debris is a big problem, but there’s much we need to learn. NOAA funds projects across the country and works with scientists and experts around the globe to better understand how marine debris moves, where it comes from, and how it affects the environment. This knowledge will help us find better ways to tackle the problem.
The NOAA Marine Debris Program offers a heap of creative products to get the word out about marine debris. Looking for brochures, posters, fact sheets, or guidebooks? We’ve got those. Like videos? We’ve got those, too. We even have a blog! You’ll find it all online.
Marine debris is a global problem that requires global solutions. NOAA experts work with scientists and organizations around the world to share lessons learned, discover what programs work best, and map out future strategies to fight this problem.
Fighting the marine debris problem begins at home.
Here is my fly box. It is a qualified success, as is my fishing. The fly box is rather better organised than I am, though. Some of the flies in it are routinely ignored by others to whom I helpfully offer the box. I’ve found the best plan is to stick with the silvery shrimpy patterns, especially the ones with pink heads. Then nobody gets upset. And from time to time I get lucky (see header image).
Recently, a proper fisherman started to follow my blog, and I his. I immediately recognised one of the fishing lakes on his site, one where I have fished in the past. One thing led to another and I seem to have agreed to trial some of Mark’s expertly tied flies on the Abaco flats in March…
I am very keen on the principles of ‘Catch and Release’. So keen that I have developed my own specialist methods (designed for fishing with barbless hooks) using what might be termed ‘Early C&R’. These may include some or all of the following on any given day:
Mark has just made a challenge public on his website in a post called All aboard for Abaco! “This little packet of flies is destined for the Bahamas… What stories will they conjure up in time? Rolling Harbour, Abaco… All will be revealed in time! Thanks in advance to RH – I will keep everyone posted in due course! Looking forward to some beautiful pictures of Bonefish…” The flies in question are shown below. It is expected that they will prove to be effective. The expectation is Mark’s. My own feeling is more one of hope. I hope he knows what he is doing. I hope I know what I am doing.*
*The plan is to ask my boat-partner and guide – anyone with access to a rod, really – to “have a go with one of these little guys”. They are far less likely to be as skilled as I am at Early C&R, and are therefore far more likely to boat a fish. Job done…
Photos: RH, 1st two; the rest by Mark
This post features some great Abaco bird photos taken by Sandy Walker, a man familiar to anyone connected with the Delphi Club in any capacity at all, and well-known far and wide from Marsh Harbour to Ireland. Possibly notorious in some places… Sandy doesn’t talk about his photography much, though he has plenty to say on most topics. Here are a few of his photos taken in the last 6 months or so, and deserving a wider audience. The header image, from the Delphi garden, shows a Bananaquit in characteristic feeding mode.
These shy birds are reclusive by nature and relatively hard to photograph. They tend to lurk in the undergrowth or half-hidden on water margins. If they are caught in the open, they tend to run in a somewhat cartoonish sort of way. This one was having a good dig in the mud for food.
Large birds of the shoreline and mangrove swamps, and classed with sandpipers. In flight, they have eye-catching wing stripes that Sandy has captured with a bit of camera sharp-shooting. You can see more Willets HERE
I was with Sandy when he took this photo during an amazing early evening feeding display of these birds. A hundred or more were swooping and jinking, making the most of an evening fly hatch. Sometimes they flew very close to our heads, make a whirring sound as they passed. Their speed and jagging flight made them very hard to take. I hardly got one in my viewfinder at all, but Sandy is an excellent shot of a different sort, so I guess aiming isn’t a problem for him…
I love these handsome birds, distinguishable from all other white herons and egrets (in some cases as white morphs) by their astonishing bright yellow feet. These are so vivid that they are often clearly visible when a snowy egret is standing in the water. This one was taken by the jetty at a local pond, a wonderful and secluded place to see water birds of many varieties, including rarities.
The Blue Tang Acanthurus coeruleus is a species of Atlantic surgeonfish mostly found on coral reefs. They are known as surgeonfish because they can slice you with their sharp, spiny caudal fins. Adults are blue, ranging from a deep blue or even purplish to much paler blue.
Blue Tang are herbivores, cruising constantly round reefs feeding on algae. They also act as cleaners of other fish species, removing parasites. They themselves may be cleaned by gobies by visiting so-called ‘cleaning stations’. These piscine beauty parlours have a medicinal purpose as well, since cleaning helps to cure minor wounds.
These fish often move around reefs in large schools, as shown in the header image. Apart from having some value as an aquarium fish, they are not generally of use to humans. Their spiny caudal fins can cause a nasty wound. They have an unpleasant smell. Their flesh supposedly contains toxins, and they carrying a risk of the disease CIGUATERA. I can’t even find a recipe for them online – now, that is a bad sign, there are some people who will try anything. I guess best to boil them for an hour or two, drain the water, allow to cool, and throw away the fish.
FUN FACT In the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo, the character Dory (voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) is a blue tang.
“RECIPE Take one incompetent swimmer who hasn’t snorkelled in, oh, nearly 40 years. Place him over a coral reef for his first time ever. Add a small underwater camera totally alien to him. Immerse for 30 minutes in warm briny water. Lessons have been learnt for next time. Mainly, don’t keep waving the camera about; let the fish move round you rather than vice versa; and most important of all, remember to keep breathing or else…
Here is BLUE TANG: THE MOVIE (music by Adrian Legg), 45 secs of advanced camera-shake with some beautiful fish more or less in shot for most of the time. If you are prone to sea-sickness, do not enlarge the video. If you are allergic to poor photography… well, thanks for visiting.”
Credits: Good pictures, Melinda; bad pictures and execrable movie, not Melinda
RUDDY TURNSTONES ON THE BEACH IN ABACO
Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres are well-known shore birds around the world. They used to be classified as plovers, but are now counted with sanderling. Fortunately they are distinctive enough not to be confusable with the many other species of shore bird with which they mix.
Their foraging methods are classified into 6 broad categories, though I imagine that if peckish, they may opt for all of these in the one feeding session.
This female bird has clearly dug down in the sand to the length of its bill
There’s a new arrival on Facebook, and the word is already out. Within 12 hours the page has gained 119 followers*. Already there are some wonderful old photos of family groups and MH residents. Some are named; some may be waiting for someone to recognise them. The header image (thanks for use permission, MHOM) is both instantly recognisable yet puzzling. Is that Snappas over there… no, look, there…? To get straight to the page, click HERE. I guess they’ll want to hear from anyone who has old photos or postcards of MH; or who can help with ID of people and places.
There is a similar resource for GREEN TURTLE CAY, where Amanda has a great blog LITTLE HOUSE BY THE FERRY. In part it records the restoration of her family home. However, it is also packed with old photos (with people invited to name the unknowns) and details of a fascinating genealogy project through DNA samples. MAN-O-WAR CAY has a Facebook Group called Man-o-War Cay and Abaco Family History with similar aims. HOPE TOWN has a very active Facebook page fronted by the iconic LIGHTHOUSE. And so on. Not forgetting the museums such as the WYANNIE MALONE MUSEUM, Hope Town and the MAN-O-WAR CAY HERITAGE MUSEUM.
I am neither Abaconian nor even a second-homer, so I tread lightly in these matters for obvious reasons. However, I have posted a few items about Abaco’s history from time to time so I’ll add a few links below in case anyone is tempted to investigate further. Meanwhile, I notice that in the time I have put this post together, the followers for MHOM have risen to 139…
I’ll end with what I believe to be the oldest known depiction of Hole-in-the-Wall in all its glory, before Hurricane Sandy did for it. It’s an aquatint published in the Naval Review in 1803. If you want to know what the ships are, you’ll have to click the top link. This will also offer you a number of other posts about Hole-in-the-Wall and Abaco more generally, traced through historic maps. Or just open a Kalik, why not.
*In the same time, poor Miley Cyrus has lost 2314. Wrecking Ball indeed. Whoops! There go another 249…
The Bahamas National Trust BNT is one of several organisations in the Bahamas responsible for conservation across the widely scattered islands of the Bahamas. One of its tasks is to look after the birds and their habitat, and from time to time the Trust publishes articles about their work. The Abaco-related material below is taken from a much longer article by Predensa Moore and Lynn Gape that covers the whole area, and concerns the importance of Abaco as a prime Bird Area. This applies in particular to Little Abaco and the Northern Cays; and to the large area of South Abaco that incorporates the National Park. The bird images used show some Abaco speciality birds mentioned by the BNT in their material.
WHAT ON EARTH ARE REMORAS?
Remoras (Echeneidae), also known as Sharksuckers, Whalesuckers or Suckerfishes, are ray-finned fish that grow up to 3 feet long.
WHAT DO THEY DO?
Remoras have remarkable dorsal fins that form a sucker-like organ with a ribbed structure. It looks a bit like the sole of a trainer or beach shoe.This bizarre organ can open and close to create or release suction, enabling it can latch onto larger marine creatures. The remora can increase suction by sliding backward, or it can release itself by swimming forward – the ‘slats’ are smooth in one direction, and rough the other way. They have been known to attach themselves to boats. And scuba divers. Even with hairy legs…
WHAT KIND OF CREATURES DO THEY GET ATTACHED TO?
Remoras associate with specific host species. They commonly attach themselves to sharks, manta rays, whales, turtles, and manatees / dugongs. Smaller remoras may latch onto fish such as tuna and swordfish, and some travel in the mouths or gills of large manta rays, ocean sunfish, swordfish, and sailfish.
WHY WOULD THEY WANT TO DO THAT?
The relationship between a remora and its host is known as Commensalism, specifically ’Phoresy‘. The host to which it attaches for transport gains nothing from the relationship, but also loses little. The remora benefits by using the host as transport and protection, and also feeds on morsels dropped by the host. Controversy surrounds whether a remora’s diet is primarily leftover fragments, or the feces of the host. Maybe it’s a healthy mix of both.
WHERE CAN I FIND ONE?
Remoras are found in tropical, sub-tropical and temperate waters, including the mediterranean. You will definitely find them in the Bahamas. Melinda’s photos were all taken in the waters south of Grand Bahama.
ARE THEY USEFUL TO MANKIND IN ANY WAY?
Yes, but not in a good way, some may think. Some cultures use remoras to catch turtles. A cord or rope is fastened to the remora’s tail, and when a turtle is sighted, the fish is released from the boat; it usually heads directly for the turtle and fastens itself to the turtle’s shell, and then both remora and turtle are hauled in. Smaller turtles can be pulled completely into the boat by this method, while larger ones are hauled within harpooning range. This practice has been reported throughout the Indian Ocean, especially from eastern Africa near Zanzibar and Mozambique, from northern Australia, Japan and even the Americas.
Because of the shape of the jaws, appearance of the sucker, and coloration of the remora, it sometimes appears to be swimming upside down (see above). This probably led to an older name reversus, although this might also derive from the fact that the remora frequently attaches itself to the tops of manta rays or other fish, so that the remora is upside down while attached.
THANKS FOR THAT. BUT WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO ON THESE SUCKERS?
RIGHT HERE – AN EXCELLENT VIDEO WITH PLENTY OF LIVE REMORA ACTION
OH! FINAL QUESTION. ARE REMORAS EDIBLE?
I though someone might ask that, so I’ve checked it out. Here is the best recipe I have found, expanded slightly from a blokey Australian chat thread:
Recipe for cooking Remora
Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; Wikimedia; meaty Wiki chunks & assorted pickings