SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!


Pristis_pectinata _Georgia_Aquarium_ Diliff Wiki

SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!

Exactly a year ago, an extraordinary find was made out on the Abaco Marls. Almost disguised against the pale mud under the low water was the first sawfish reported for the Marls. This fish is not merely a rarity in the Northern Bahamas: all species of sawfishes worldwide are IUCN listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Here is an account of the discovery reported by FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT: “On a recent fishing trip in the Marls with local guide Justin Sands, Sam and Jacque Cannon had an exciting encounter. As Justin was poling the flats, with Sam on the bow searching for bonefish, Jacque spotted a Sawfish! Jacque and Justin quickly forgot about Sam and his efforts to catch a bonefish and turned their focus to the Sawfish. This is a very rare sighting and one we are happy there was a camera available to document it…” A couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to sit next to Jacque at dinner at the Delphi Club, so I was able to hear at first hand the story of this amazing find. It also turned out to be the perfect time to sign an early copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for Jacque and Sam… 1900063_10152069487394482_984358031_n

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

 10 ESSENTIAL SAWFISH FACTS

  • Sawfishes are also known as Carpenter Sharks; their ‘saw’ is called a ROSTRUM
  • There are 7 species in oceans and seas worldwide, including the Mediterranean
  • All populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss, overfishing & pollution
  • The rostrum is used to feel, to dig, to slash & impale or stun its prey, and for defence
  • Sawfishes are nocturnal creatures and spend a lot of time face down on the sea floor
  • Like sharks, their skeleton is made of cartilage and not bone.
  • Some species can grow up to 7m long
  • They are generally unaggressive unless provoked but fight strongly when caught
  • Sawfishes are slow breeders, making population recovery more difficult
  • Babies are called ‘pups’. Their rostrum is flexible and sheathed until after birth
Sawfish seen from Underwater Tunnel - Atlantis, Nassau Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Sawfish seen from below – Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Other sawfish have been seen recently in the Northern Bahamas, though not in Abaco waters. Last summer the Bahamas National Trust posted 2 great images of a Smalltooth Sawfish, saying “BNT was excited to receive these photographs of a Smalltooth Sawfish photographed in the proposed East Grand Bahama National Park – Bersus Cay Area. The sawfish was 12 to 13 feet long and was seen in water that was 2 -3 feet deep. Thank you to Buzz Cox, Island Manager at Deep water Cay for sending us these photos”. Sawfish, Grand Bahama Sawfish, Grand Bahama

CONSERVATION ISSUES

POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels.

THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal).

LEGAL PROTECTION Capturing a sawfish is illegal in certain countries, including the United States. The sale of smalltooth sawfish rostra is prohibited in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.  The import for sale of that of any sawfish species is also prohibited. The international trade of sawfish was banned by the CITES convention in June 2007.
For those that want to find out  a bit more detail about these issues, there’s plenty on interesting information in a scientific (but readable) paper from NOAA – click the link below

A very recent Bahamas smalltooth sawfish sighting on Bimini – Jan 2015Pristis_pectinata_(smalltooth_sawfish)_(Bimini,_western_Bahamas) Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015 Wiki

Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) Bimini, Bahamas – Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015

Time for some footage of these rare and wonderful creatures in the Bahamas. The first is from John Flanagan and was taken during a dive off Bimini in early 2014. He was so surprised by the sight that he nearly forgot to turn on his camera to take a short video… The second is a longer 5 min video taken off Andros by Grant Johnson of “wild footage of the critically endangered Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The west side of Andros, Bahamas is one of the last places on Earth that still provides vast refuge for this incredible animal”.

Finally, you may be wondering how exactly the sawfish uses its rostrum to stun fish, as mentioned earlier. Watch this short video – see how quickly it moves, for such an apparently cumbersome and dozy creature…
Credits as shown above, with particular mention of Jacque Cannon for probably the first known sighting and anyway photo of an Abaco sawfish…; header pic in aquarium Diliff (Wiki)

“PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

 “PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The Brief today is to write about Brown Pelicans at Sandy Point. And to shoehorn in the traditional titular pun somehow (job done!). For those unfamiliar with Abaco, SP is the end of the road. Literally. The island has one highway 120 miles long, mostly straight, from north to nearly south where it curves abruptly west for a while, past the airfield, and when it reaches the ocean at Rocky Point there’s a 90º turn. For a couple of miles, you travel north again into Sandy Point… then stop when you see the sea ahead of you. Dead end. Time to park and explore… 

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

The birding at SP can be very rewarding. Depending on the time of year, you may see ospreys, tropicbirds, heron and egrets of various sorts, kestrels, anis and plenty of shorebirds. The last are found on the narrow beaches and at low tide on the sandbars close to the shore. On the more distant sandbars in Spring, you may see a colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Man-0-War birds), the males with their amazing ‘look-at-me’ bright red throat-balloons (‘gular pouches’) inflated to enhance their wooing prospects. This is exactly the time you’ll realise you haven’t brought your binoculars with you…  Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 9 We’d gone to a (very) informal lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s, but there was activity on the nearby dock that caught my eye. A pair of pelicans were fishing from it, then drying in the sun, then having a little fly around. I only had a rather underwhelming camera with me, so I did what I could in a short time before returning to the matter in hand. Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 8Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 6Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 Although I watched the birds diving off the dock a few times, I never actually saw them catch anything. Maybe they had already swallowed some hapless little fish before returning to the dock. I was reminded of a poem by a poet called James Montgomery. Here’s his vivid and perhaps overwrought description of pelican feeding habits: Nimbly they seized and secreted their prey, Alive and wriggling in the elastic net, Which Nature hung beneath their grasping beaks; Till, swoln, with captures, the unwieldy burden Clogg’d their slow flight, as heavily to land, These mighty hunters of the deep return’d. There on the cragged cliffs they perch’d at ease, Gorging their hapless victims one by one; Then full and weary, side by side, they slept, Till evening roused them to the chase again. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854): Pelican Island, 1828 (canto IV, l. 141)

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

Check out that ‘gular pouch’… Pelicans, like frigatebirds, have them – cormorants too.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 14

After each sortie a certain amount of shaking down, feather fluffing & general drying-off took placeBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 13

Although these pelicans look generally rather clumsy and ponderous both in flight and on land, they are surprisingly quick and agile in the dive. Occasionally, however, the take-off was a bit ragged… Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 Usually the male took the tallest post from which to survey the scene, but occasionally the female beat him to a good vantage point.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 17 I’d never seen pelicans so close-to before. At Delphi they can be seen flying lazily past over the bay, quite high. I’ve seen one in Hope Town, but some distance away. So it was a huge thrill to be able to watch these two birds from the dock itself. You’ll see that the female was ringed (banded), but the male was not. Very soon we’ll be back on Abaco. I’m hoping the pelicans will be at Sandy Point again. And the ospreys. And the Frigatebirds.  And that I’ll have remembered the binoculars. And that the Kaliks at Nancy’s will be ice-cold…  All photos, RH

It’s a poor photo, but it illustrates the huge wingspan compared to body length…Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 15

HIBISCUS ON ABACO: BLOOMING MARVELLOUS


Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 1

HIBISCUS ON ABACO: BLOOMING MARVELLOUS

I’ve been deleting old photos from past Abaco trips to free up space for some new ones. Why did I keep all those dreary back views of small birds? How many black shadow pics of Turkey Vultures flying high in a blue sky does one need? What’s with the blurry butterflies? Then I came across a clump of hibiscus photos taken in the Delphi garden last March. Can’t have too many of them, so here are a few to enjoy. In two weeks we will be among them again, and no doubt I’ll take a lot a few more. As if there aren’t enough already.  Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 4Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 3 Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 5Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 7 Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 9 Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 8Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 6Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 10Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 2

WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN


Common Gallinule.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

WHAT’S IN A NAME? COMMON GALLINULE aka MOORHEN

Names can be a hassle. My own, when not my alter ego Rolling Harbour (from a long line of Harbours), was a act of Baptismal Folly for which I cannot be held responsible. I could have changed it by Deed Poll were I seriously bothered, but I am aware that there are far worse names out there and at least mine reflects my scandi-scottish origins I suppose.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The Moorhen has had a far worse time of it. Over many decades its name has been changed, changed back and changed again. Partly it’s to do with a continuing debate over the New World and Old World subspecies – or as it now stands, separate species. Even that status has changed around over time. It’s enough to give the poor creature an ID crisis.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7551_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

The Common Gallinule Gallinula galeata, as it has been known since 2011, is a bird of the rail family. The AOU decreed its divorce from the Common Moorhen after due consideration of the evidence and it is now lumbered with the less familiar and user-friendly Gallinule name.

Common Gallinule, Abaco - Peter Mantle

Note the yellow legs and large feet (unwebbed)

Moorhens (I’m using this as a comfortable nickname, aware that I am flying in the face of progress) are usually seen swimming serenely around ponds or picking their way through marshy ground as they forage. They have an aggressive side, hissing loudly if they feel threatened and fighting to preserve their territory or nest. Nestlings have been observed clinging to a parent as it flies to safety with its offspring as passengers.

Bahamas-Great Abaco_7536_Common Gallinule_Gerlinde Taurer copy

WHAT IS A ‘GALLINULE’ WHEN IT’S AT HOME

I wondered what the word ‘Gallinule’ actually means? What is the derivation? The BINOMIAL NOMENCLATURE (basically = scientific name in Latin) of most species is largely unintelligible unless you have some knowledge of Latin. But most birds end up with a useful, often descriptive, everyday name. Red-tailed Hawk. Least Tern. Yellow Warbler. Painted Bunting. You know what to expect with those. But a ‘Gallinule’ could as easily be a french cooking receptacle or delicious dish. Or a grim and slimy horror from Tolkien. Or maybe something / someone out of Harry Potter. Sleuthing online reveals that the word is a modern Latin construct of the c18, derived from the Latin diminutive word for a ‘hen’. So it’s simply a hen. As in Moorhen.

Common Gallinule, Abaco Woody Bracey

WHAT IS A ‘MOOR’ WHEN IT’S ATTACHED TO A HEN?

This does not refer to a wide swathe of open upland country, often covered in heather and gorse, where in the UK (especially in Scotland) every August 12 thousands of grouse are traditionally shot. It stems from an honest Old English word for a marshy or swampy area, Mor. It was used from early mediaeval times and itself comes from Saxon and Germanic roots. So perhaps calling the Common Gallinule a [Common] Marsh Hen would be more helpful… Or – hey! – why not have American Moorhen and Eurasian Moorhen, a perfectly valid differentiation used quite satisfactorily for other species…?

Common Gallinule (nonbreeding adult).Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Adult non-breeding plumage

There’s more on the naming of birds generally and Moorhens specifically in a couple of amusingly-written sources I came across. The first is from NEMESIS BIRD written by Alex Lamoreaux in 2011, called Goodbye Moorhen, Hello Gallinule. The second is from the excellent 10000BIRDS.COM entitled Moorhen Mania – the splitting and renaming of the Common Moorhen

Common Gallinule (Leucistic?) - Tony Hepburn

The bird above with a striking colouring and orange beak was photographed by the late Tony Hepburn. He believed it to be an unusual LEUCISTIC moorhen with reduced pigmentation, a condition that has similarities with ALBINISM

BAHAMAS - Common Gallinule, Abaco, TC GC Hole 11 - Becky Marvil

At some stage I am planning a companion Coot post. I won’t need to go on and on about that name. It may not be descriptive but it is short and simple, and everyone knows where they stand with it. Until they decide to rename it a Cotellinule…

Gallinule © Hans Hillewaert

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Peter Mantle, Gerlinde Taurer, Woody Bracey, Tony Hepburn, Becky Marvil, Hans Hillewaert, Nemesis Bird, 10000birds.com

     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule     common-gallinule

CHERUBFISH (PYGMY ANGELFISH): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (23)


Cherubfish (Pygmy Angelfish) © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

 CHERUBFISH (PYGMY ANGELFISH): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (23)

Time for a bright little denizen of the not-so-deep. The Cherubfish Centropyge argi or pygmy angelfish is a very small (8cm) and distinctively coloured angelfish species. These fish are native to the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and flicker round the coral reefs happily feeding as they go (see the video below to see how busily they forage). Or maybe they are just having a good time…

Cherubfish (rare) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The Cherubfish is unsurprisingly a popular aquarium species. Don’t rush straight out and buy some though: a typical warning says “like other angel fish, they are not completely 100% reef-safe. Results vary among individual fish and tank qualities (size, feeding, tankmates, etc.), so caution is recommended when adding this fish to a coral tank“. You can read the whys and the wherefores HERE – sadly I lack the vibrant interest in aquaria to go into it myself…

Cherubfish Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Looking beyond Melinda’s lovely images of the species, I have found that these creatures will often show more yellow at the nose end. Here’s an example of a more two-tone Cherubfish in case you come across one. Cherubfish Centropyge argi  (Brian Gratwicke)

I mentioned that Cherubfish flicker around the reefs instead of proceeding serenely and in an orderly fashion.  Have a look at this short video to see what active little fish they are.

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Credits: all images Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except the last, Brian Glanville

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!

The House Sparrow is one of the most successful, adaptive and prolific species in the world. THE most, in fact. It is found on every continent (except Antarctica… but I bet there are in fact a few of them pecking around the Ross Ice Shelf for crumbs). It is indigenous to Europe and Asia, and has been introduced elsewhere.  So to any birds or people  that say house sparrows are boring and common, I would point out that they are world record-holders… 

People tend not to photograph house sparrows. Their domesticity and familiarity have rather tended to breed contempt. Besides, there are more impressive birds to capture. In compiling BIRDS OF ABACO, it was surprisingly hard to get hold of sparrow images. We had to take some ‘in-house’ photos as back-up. Although the house sparrow comes into the broad birding category ‘LBJ’ (‘Little Brown Job’), it’s really a bit unfair. The males in particular deserve a second look (then you can go and find some painted buntings if you wish…).House Sparrow, Abaco - Nina Henry

One of the strangest birding features in the UK in the last 20 years has been the virtual elimination of the house sparrow from London and its inner suburbs. Until recently, there were loveable ‘Cockerny Sparrers’ everywhere. Then suddenly the population began to decline, and the rate of loss accelerated quickly. I haven’t seen one in London for years – not in our garden, not in the green squares, not in the trees, not in noisy squawking crowds in Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. Suddenly a bird that was so common that its presence was taken completely for granted has now become high on any birder’s ‘get’ list for London, and a joy to see…  To read a short article on the possible reasons for the decline CLICK HERE. The trouble is that most theories could be applied to other major cities where there are still thriving populations – New York, for example.

House Sparrow, Abaco - Peter Mantle

It has to be said that the female house sparrow is undeniably less… er… flamboyant than the male, as is the case with most (all?) avians. But they are still pretty birds, in much the same way that a female black-faced grassquit has subtle coloration if you look closely. I took the photo below at MH Airport while hanging around for a plane. The bird wasn’t perched at a very good angle for a memorable shot, or so I thought until I noticed its little wrinkly feet and sharp claws…

House Sparrow (f), Abaco Keith Salvesen

The delicate patterns of the female house sparrow 
House Sparrow (f), Abaco Bruce Hallett copy

A juvenile. Cute, yes, but I’m sorry, it really is quite dull at this stage…House Sparrow (juv), Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Nina Henry x 2, Peter Mantle, Moi, Bruce Hallett, Charles Skinner

MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2


Here's one I caught earlier...

Here’s one I caught earlier… (Photo: Mrs RH)

 MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2

Last March I took 6 bonefish flies specially tied by MARK MINSHULL out to Abaco to test on the Marls. They were lovely flies, tied with great skill by a man who can pull beautiful fly-caught fish out of the Thames. I tried them. Far better fishermen than me tried them. The result was a failure that can only be qualified by the word ‘complete’. Mark took the news very well, and promised to redesign some flies that might be more enticing this year. Here is his design report for the Mark 2 version that I received this morning. The links to the first experiment can be found at the end of this post. 

RH fish on 2013

RH gets lucky with a Delphi Daddy…

JLM BONEFISH SPECIAL MARK 2

Those of you who may have read my previous posts about JLM Specials and Bonefish already know about RH (of Rolling Harbour fame) and his wonderfully generous spirit. He kindly field tested my original pattern with fantastically conclusive results in 2014! The beauty of designing fly patterns is that one can tweak every variable based on feedback received… The basic pattern still holds however the revised editions are a far cry from their predecessors:

The original JLM Specials

The original JLM Specials

This afternoon I completed a set of adapted flies based on RH’s generous report from last time. White and pink, with small flashes of red or orange are my main ingredients and for the streamers, I used varying proportions of elk hair and/or Arctic fox fibres.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement" - Helen Keller (photo - metiefly)

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement” – Helen Keller (photo – metiefly)

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

I’ll keep you posted of the Outcome in due course. As always – thank you for reading and I look forward to your return.

Here is my own photo of the new Mark 2 flies on a white background to show their subtle differences. I can see at once that I shall have to number them all and remember who is using which, so that the killer variation(s) can be identified… As you will notice, the craftsmanship is terrific. My bet would be on the skinnier ones being the most effective in clear water, but I fancy casting one of the hairier ones across a feeding cloud and dragging it back through the murky water… (which is the only way I’ve ever caught 6+ lb fish – yes, yes, I hear you, that’s pure luck and not skill at all).

Bonefish Flies Mark2

Now I just have to sort out my fly box for next month’s escapades. Some things need to go to make some room – those appalling brown stripy ones for a start, which the guides have chortled at. Or, worse, stared at sadly… Oh, did I mention I also have the little tin with foam in… and that small green ‘Orvisman at Orvis’ fly box from Orvis™… 

The Snowbee Stripping Glove has been thrown to the ground at my feet. The challenge is accepted!