Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4


In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3


Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3


A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett

Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos


Bahamas Manatee Randy 2 (BMMRO)

West Indian Manatee Randy, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas


Felice Leanne Knowles of the Bahamas Manatee Club has written a great round-up of the Bahamas manatee history for International Manatee Day. She has included their current whereabouts as at September 2015. I’ve added some illustrative images. I’ve called it a “short” history since, although the incidence of recorded manatee sightings in The Bahamas spans 109 years, there was a complete blank of 73 years until 1976, then only sporadic reports until the 1990s.

Randy at Sandy Point, Abaco (2015). Note the distinctive notch in his paddle that confirms his IDBahamas Manatee Randy, Sandy Point Abaco 2 (BMMRO)Bahamas Manatee Randy's notched paddle (BMMRO)

images copy

“The first official documentation of a manatee sighting in The Bahamas was in 1904. The next report was not until 1975. Since the 90’s manatees have been sighted much more frequently.

GINA was first sighted in The Bahamas in 1998 at the AUTEC base in Andros. Since then, she has made The Bahamas her home and has had four calves. Gina is currently in Spanish Wells with her youngest calf of ~ 2 months. RANDY (~7 years old), her son, is currently in Hope Town, Abaco and her daughter JJ (~3.5 years old) was last seen in February, 2015 in Great Harbour Cay, the Berry Islands. Her eldest calf was lost to a motor craft strike.

Gina with one of her calvesBahamas Manatee Gina & Calf (BMMRO)

Gina with her newest calf, photographed recently in EleutheraBahamas Manatee Gina & calf, Eleuthera (The Front Porch)

Since Gina’s arrival, more manatees have been sighted in The Bahamas as persons and organisations became more aware. RITA was first sighted 2009 in Spanish Wells, Eleuthera and was actually pregnant! She gave birth to GEORGIE on June 25th, 2010. Rita was last seen at the AUTEC base in Andros two weeks ago and Georgie was last seen in Casaurina in July 2015. These two ladies have a very interesting story which can be followed on our website: http://www.bahamaswhales.org/news/2012/news_Apr12.html [You can also read about Georgie’s adventure-packed life, with additional links, HERE]

Georgie, Rita’s daughter, at Cherokee, AbacoGeorgie the Manatee, Cherokee, Abaco DSC_0009-001

Two large adult males are also inhabiting The Bahamas, KONG and BLACKBEARD. Kong was first sighted by BMMRO in December of 2011, but could have been in The Bahamas before. Kong has been a true Berry Islander and has always been sighted in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Islands. Blackbeard was first sighted in Long Island in 2010. Blackbeard got his name because he has surely traveled the Bahamian waters. He has been to Long, Cat, Eleuthera, and New Providence islands. Since his arrival in New Providence in December 2014, he has already circumnavigated the island twice for sure. He has become very popular down there to the residents and to guests.

Randy in a playful moodBahamas Manatee Randy (BMMRO)

There have been sightings of many other manatees, but we have not received enough photographs and information to give the manatees proper identification names and sexes. Currently, we propose that there are ~15 manatees inhabiting The Bahamas, but this number is not set in stone.

As yet unidentified manatee in Marsh Harbour, summer 2015. Note 3 prop scars on its backBahamas Manatee, Marsh harbour Abaco. No ID. (BMMRO)

BMMRO is working hard to monitor and protect the manatee population in The Bahamas and we cannot do it without the help from the public. Please stay encouraged and continue to care for these magnificent marine mammals. We would like to thank everyone who plays a role in protecting our Bahamian beauty, for providing sighting reports, for providing photographs, and for sharing information about manatees. 

Gina checking out the camera! Manatees are gentle & very curious… maybe in both sensesBahamas Manatee Gina (BMMRO)

“Always remember your manatee manners: “Do not touch, follow, or chase them, do not feed them, and do not give them fresh water to drink”.”

Manatee Awareness Poster jpg copy

Props to Felice, Bahamas Manatee Club , BMMRO and ‘The Front Porch’, Eleuthera


Hurricane Joaquin at dawn from International Space Station, Oct 2 (Scott Kelly / ISS / NASA)

Hurricane Joaquin at dawn from International Space Station, Oct 2 (Scott Kelly / ISS / NASA)


Since my post yesterday HERE confirming evidence that Joaquin was hooking out into the Atlantic and away from northern Bahamas, the storm has picked up speed as it now heads for Bermuda. It is also on a direct route to Ireland and the UK, but is already weakening. With the storm now reduced to a Cat. 3, a continuing lessening of intensity is predicted.

In this second – and, I hope, final – post of the hurricane season, the images below show the current state of play early today. I’ll repeat the weather watch links at the end.

Joaquin clears the Bahamas & heads out into the Atlantic towards Bermuda as a Cat. 3 stormHurricane Joaquin Storm path October 3

Forecast eye-path early on Oct 3Hurricane Joaquin Storm path October 3

The remarkable storm path, hooking round over Central Bahamas & going back on itseslfHurricane Joaquin Storm path October 3

The strange beauty of a hurricane captured from spaceHurricane Joaquin over central Bahamas, seen from space







and for local Bahamas news


Credit: 'Watts Up With That

Sources: NASA, NOAA, ISS / Scott Kelly, Wunderground, Accuweather


Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 6


There’s a great deal of information about Hurricane Joaquin flying around the internet right now, which is completely understandable. How quickly things have progressed since Irene in 2011 in the very early days of this blog, when there was little public information and an almost complete absence of information on social media. I posted daily (or more) updates as the hurricane swept up over the Bahamas. In 4 days, and despite communications being largely blanked, I had over 15,000 hits and a mass of questions along the lines ‘Any news of Treasure Cay’; ‘Can you find out how my boat is – Saucy Sue in Little Harbour’; and ‘Hi I’m on Elbow Cay, can you tell my mom in Maine that I’m ok’ [+ email]…

Here is the position today, at 05.00 EDT, according to the various resources that people turn to. Central Bahamas has taken – is taking – a battering and we have the people there very much in mind. But for the northern Bahamas the picture has improved, with the veer of Joaquin’s predicted path to the northeast increasing overnight. This does not mean an absence of strong winds and big waves – these are already being felt. But the most serious area of this Cat 4 hurricane is not expected to pass over Abaco – the direct concern of most readers of this blog. How different from Irene which wrought its havoc right over the island; and Sandy, which took much the same route.







and for local Bahamas news


Anyway, all the best to everyone affected by this fierce storm directly or indirectly, and good luck.

Credit: 'Watts Up With That

Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 1Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 3Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 4Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 7Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 5Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 2Sources: NASA, NOAA, Wunderground, Weather Channel, NYT, Accuweather


Hooded Merganser - male (Keith Salvesen WWT)


On the whole, I’d advise against undertaking a special trip to the Bahamas to search for mergansers, either hooded or red-breasted. Both species are classified as rare winter residents. Over the last 10 years they have occasionally found in the northern Bahamas, including on Abaco. I’ve seen a female red-breasted merganser at Gilpin Pond. Although the bird photos I post are generally taken on Abaco, I admit that I have no hooded merganser photos taken there. Or in the Bahamas for that matter. So bear with me – these that I took elsewhere will have serve as illustrations of what you might see on Abaco if you were in the right place at the right time. As if…

Hooded Merganser - male (Keith Salvesen WWT)Hooded Merganser - male (Keith Salvesen WWT)Hooded Merganser - female (Keith Salvesen WWT)Hooded Merganser - female (Keith Salvesen WWT)Hooded Merganser - male (Keith Salvesen WWT)Hooded Merganser - male (Keith Salvesen WWT) Hooded Merganser - female (Keith Salvesen WWT) Hooded Merganser - male (Keith Salvesen WWT) Hooded Merganser pair (Keith Salvesen WWT)

All photos: RH


Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)


Two sisters, Chelsea and Danielle, grew up by a Florida beach. With their parents,they learned from an early age to collect rubbish from the beach and to keep it clean. When they were little, the problems weren’t so great. Gradually, the tide changed. Literally. And indeed littorally. As is a common experience with any shoreline these days however remote and unspoilt, all manner of debris washes in on every tide, from plastic straws to SPACE ROCKET FAIRINGS. There has been a massive increase in ‘single-use’ plastic items. Most of it will take years, decades or even centuries to decompose. And there are deflated balloons, with their strings.

A typical haul of a lot of plastic and several balloons from just one beach collectionMarine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

As ‘business’ on the Florida beach increased, so it became clear that balloons were becoming a significant problem. The increasing popularity of mass releases of balloons at sports events, civic or institutional occasions, and smaller celebrations means 100s or even 1000s of balloons being released into the sky. In most cases they are filled with helium – a finite resource – which carries them high over the earth. Very festive. Then the problems begin. They get caught in thermals, winds and crosswinds, gales and storms. Whether onto land or water, they all have to come down eventually. The problems caused therefore affect creatures inland, on the shoreline and out to sea.

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

Eventually the sisters decided to take action. They started a website BALLOONSBLOW.ORG, linked to a FB page. They post regularly about their beach clean-ups, now extended to other beaches on the south-west coast of Florida. They also produce balloon-based information sheets and flyers such as these:

Balloons Blow fact sheet

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

I have a folder in which I keep some horrific images of incapacitated, dying or dead creatures. I use them sparingly because in the main they are upsetting. Almost every one of them involves entanglement in or ingestion of such materials as plastic, mylar, styrofoam, rubber or latex. Here are just 3 examples involving balloon strings – I’ll spare you others I have collected (e.g. a turtle that died trying to excrete the remains of a balloon).

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)Sea Turtle tied up in balloon string (Blair Witherington : NOAA)

I don’t have a down on ‘fun’ – and nor do Chelsea and Lucy I’m sure. But, now in their 20s, they have had years of direct hands-on experience clearing their beach and one can see why they decided to take wider action. From one area they have accumulated a vast collection of balloons that will take many decades to break down. Even then, the degraded pieces and micro-pieces will be eaten by fish, turtles and birds.

Here’s an illustration of the problem of creatures nibbling away at latexMarine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

The Delphi beach is very regularly cleaned up, of course, but there’s nothing that can be done to stem the arrival of debris large and small on every tide. Beautiful and remote though the one-mile curved strand may be, one cannot walk far without seeing plastic of some description. As a matter of interest, I tried a test: walking south on the beach in the tide-line, how long would it take to find balloon evidence? The answer was, less than 10 minutes.

Marine Debris: RH on DCB beach - balloon strings

The decomposition rate of various common itemsPlastic trash -5 Gyres Infographic

The Balloons Blow website is constructive in offering festive alternatives to mass balloon releases, rather than merely chronicling the downsides. The balloons and other plastic junk mostly arrives from the western fringes of the North Atlantic Gyre, in the Sargasso Sea, where the trash gets caught in the sargassum and is eventually forced onto the shoreline by currents, winds and tides. 

             North Atlantic Gyre hotspot infographic                           North Atlantic Gyre Garbage Patch wired_com

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)

This post has concentrated on the dangers to wildlife caused by latex and mylar balloons that are sometimes claimed to be biodegradable but are not. There’s more to be said about plastic marine trash, but I’ll keep that for another day. 

Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)







Marine Debris - Balloons & Plastic (Balloons Blow)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

It’s Friday already. A day I normally write a post. Well I’ve run out of time this week. So I have rummaged in the RH archive and chosen one stonking image to end the week with. This beautiful black-necked stilt was taken by Tom Sheley at Gilpin Pond, Abaco – a place where these birds may reliably be found (they are permanent breeding residents on Abaco). Indeed it is a great place to find many bird species at any time – and the adjacent shoreline can be equally productive. Have a great weekend!