BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, HOPE TOWN, ABACO: 150 YEARS OLD TODAY!


HT Lighthouse 1

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE ABACO: THE WORKS

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, as it is properly called, is 150 years old. It is the stripy icon of Abaco – and quite flashy as well. One of the last remaining kerosene-lit lighthouses in the world, it retains its mechanisms and fresnel lenses in remarkable condition, a tribute to the conservation lovingly devoted to the building. Below is a re-post of an article I wrote some time ago, with photos of some of the internal works and some facts and figures thrown in, There’s a big event in the lighthouse’s honour today – here’s the flyer for it. We’ve donated a signed copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for auction, and I hope it makes a few $$$$ for the cause.

photo copy

Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo     Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo

Hope Town Lighthouse, Abaco

Our visit to Elbow Cay was one part of our day’s Island Hopping / Reef Snorkelling expedition with Kay Politano. In Hope Town, while most of the party wandered round the streets (and shops…) Mrs RH took the boat across the harbour to the Hope Town Lighthouse. This must be the best known landmark of Abaco – ‘iconic’, perhaps, in the modern sense of the word. The weather on the day was pretty poor, with thick cloud and intermittent rain and drizzle. Which is a pity, because the photos would have looked even better with sunshine and blue sky… 

                                          All photos: Mrs Rolling Harbour


HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE FACTS

(CLICK  on Coordinates below for position and Hope Town info)

Location: Elbow Cay, port of Hope Town
Coordinates 26.539421°N 76.958840°W
Year first constructed: 1862
Year first lit: 1864
Construction: Masonry
Tower shape: Conical
Markings/Pattern: Red and white bands
Focal Height: 37 m (121 ft)
Original lens: First order Fresnel
Range: 23 nmi
Characteristic: Fl(5) 15s
Admiralty number: J4572
NGA number: 11800
ARLHS number: BAH-010

THE HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE is one of only three Manual Lighthouses left in the World. It has a spring mechanism that has to be hand cranked every few hours to maintain the sequence of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The lamp burns kerosene with a wick and mantle. The light is then focused as it passes through the optics of a first order (largest size) Fresnel lens which floats on a bed of mercury.

A FRESNEL LENS (pron. ‘Fray-nel’) is a type of lens originally developed by a French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel specifically for lighthouses.Compared to conventional bulky lenses, the Fresnel lens is much thinner, larger, and flatter, and captures more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing lighthouses to be visible over much greater distances. Fresnel’s lighthouse lenses ordinarily fell into six orders based on their focal length, first order being the largest (wiki-assist)

For some more images of this iconic – or do I mean symbolic (discuss) – building CLICK===>>> ILOVEHOPETOWN You’ll find that around half the images are of the lighthouse, internal and external. Then look at the colourful remainder. Then it’s a short step to the Facebook page and more info about this charming Cay

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

MARSH HARBOUR ONLINE MUSEUM: A NEW RESOURCE FOR OLD ABACO


Marsh Harbour, Abaco - Old Photo

MARSH HARBOUR ONLINE MUSEUM: A NEW RESOURCE FOR OLD ABACO

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.

cropped-option-7-copy

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.

‘Elbow Reef’ – antique engraving Hope Town Abaco - historic print

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…

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

CHARLES CORY’S C19 BIRDING EXPEDITIONS TO ABACO

“GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF” A c19 NATURALIST VISITS ABACO

MAN-O-WAR CAY, ABACO: THE HIDDEN BOAT-BUILDING VILLAGE

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE, ELBOW CAY, ABACO – A BEACON ICON

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. hole-in-the-wall-print-1803

*In the same time, poor Miley Cyrus has lost 2314. Wrecking Ball indeed. Whoops! There go another 249…

EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891


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EARLY BIRDS ON ABACO: CHARLES CORY’S EXPEDITIONS 1891

Before the explorations of the american ornithologist Charles Cory towards the end of the c19, there had been few if any serious attempts to record the birds of the Bahama Islands, especially the sparsely populated ones such as Abaco. The english naturalist Mark Catesby had published his  wonderful The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands as early as 1754, which of course included some birds, but it was far from avian-specific. During the 1880s, Cory forsook the golf course (his other passion – he even competed in the 1904 Olympics but, as it is intriguingly put, “…did not finish…”) to concentrate on birds. He commenced his research for his List of the Birds of the West Indies, published in 1886. The scope was wide, including Antilles, Jamaica, Cuba, Hispaniola and the Bahamas. The book simply listed birds by family, giving the bird names in Latin, and the locations where they were found. It’s scarcely an enticing read, and the ‘print on demand’ copy I obtained for about $15 is frankly horrid.00199p1

In 1891, Cory and his colleague Mr C.L. Winch paid more specific attention to the Bahamas, visiting several islands, taking specimens and recording their findings. Cory subsequently published these in the ornithological journal of record, The Auk, established in 1884 as a quarterly peer-reviewed scientific journal and the official publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union (AOU).  I’m not clear whether Cory actually accompanied Winch throughout the voyages, or whether they covered the islands separately. In any event, the first visit to Abaco took place in March 1891, when Mr Winch took specimens and recorded the species he encountered.00161p1

Cory : Winch 1891 March jpg

To save you the bother of taxing your brain with Latin  taxonomies (in some cases out-of-date), the species recorded are shown below. Every one of these species might be seen during a March visit nowadays.

COLUMN 1 Semipalmated Plover; Common Ground Dove; Turkey Vulture; Smooth-billed Ani; Belted Kingfisher; Hairy Woodpecker; Bahama Woodstar; Cuban Emerald; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Loggerhead Kingbird; Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Black-faced Grassquit; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Black-whiskered Vireo

COLUMN 2 Bananaquit; Black & White Warbler; Kirtland’s Warbler; Yellow Warbler; Prairie Warbler; Yellow-rumped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Common Yellowthroat; Bahama Yellowthroat; Northern Waterthrush; Ovenbird; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Gray Catbird; Northern Mockingbird;  Red-legged Thrush

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In June they were back on Abaco; or at least, Mr Winch had returned. This time, the list of species was somewhat different, as one might expect in the summer season. It contains one particular curiosity: the Bahama Oriole. This fine bird was sadly extirpated from Abaco in the 1990s, and may now only be found on Andros. There are reckoned to be only about 300 left, so the species is on the brink of extinction.Bahama Oriole.jpg (Wiki)

Charles Cory 1857 – 1921Charles Barney Cory 1857-1921 (Wiki)Cory List copy jpg

COLUMN 1 Red-tailed Hawk; Mourning Dove; Common Nighthawk; Cuban Emerald; Bahama Woodstar; West Indian Woodpecker; Hairy Woodpecker; La Sagra’s Flycatcher; Cuban Pewee; Loggerhead Kingbird; Gray Kingbird; Bahama Oriole; Red-winged Blackbird

COLUMN 2  Greater Antillean Bullfinch; Western Spindalis; Thick-billed Vireo; Bahama Swallow; Bahama Yellowthroat; Pine Warbler; Olive-capped Warbler; Yellow-throated Warbler; Bananaquit; Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; Northern Mockingbird; Red-legged Thrush

Cory published his findings in The Auk
The Auk 1891

A regrettable ‘print-on-demand’ purchaseCory

Illustrations by John James Audubon 1785 – 1851 (who never visited Abaco)00422p1

For anyone with eyelids still open, you can read more about Bahamas birds and The Auk journal HERE

PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)


PINEAPPLES – A SHORT BUT FRUITY HISTORY (Mk 2)

NOTE The original post more than a year ago was intended in part as a celebration of passing the 50,000 hits mark. As I said then, “…so much interest in the wildlife of one small island? Thanks to all those who have visited during the last year or so”. Now we are speeding towards 125,000. In that time, the readership has increased somewhat (I thank you both…). So I am rolling this one out again with a few revisions, because it went down quite well before, at least with Pinaphiles…

🍍  🍍  🍍  🍍  🍍

The first image below is of the handsome locally hand-carved pineapple that surmounts the roof of the DELPHI CLUB Abaco. The fruit lost a few leaves in Hurricane Irene, which scored a direct hit on the Club. As posted on the ABACO FACTS page (under RANDOM main menu) “the precise Longitude & Latitude coordinates of the Pineapple [on] the Delphi Club roof are respectively -77.1787834167480  &  26.20450323936187 “. But why is it there? Time for a Short Voyage around the Pineapple…

PINEAPPLE FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

HISTORICAL & SOCIAL CONTEXT

  • Brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his return from his second voyage
  • Taken on long voyages as a protection against scurvy and because of its long life
  • By the c17 royalty & aristocracy grew them in hot-houses (or rather, their gardeners did). King Charles II tried one, an event so important it was recorded by the Court painter Hendrik Danckerts 
  • By c18 considered a great delicacy and a status symbol of wealth, often the centre-piece of a feast.
  • If you couldn’t afford to buy one, you could rent one and return it afterwards. Someone richer than you would then buy it.
  • Pineapples were grown in pits of fermenting manure. In England Queen Victoria was not amused and soon put an end to that unpleasant nonsense
  • In the c19 pineapples were one of the most significant exports from Abaco
  • The Earl of Dunmore built a huge pineapple folly in Scotland in 1761, which you can stay in (We have. It’s a lot of fun)

   

  • On ‘Unter den Linden’ in Berlin,  the cast iron posts round the huge equestrian statue of Frederick the Great are topped by pineapples.

Berlin, Unter den Linden, Reiterstandbild Friedrich II                 Reiterstandbild_-_Friedrich_der_Große Berlin Wikimedia

CULTURAL SYMBOLISM

  • Pineapples symbolise welcome and hospitality, placed at the entrance to villages or plantations. The tradition spread to Europe where they were carved as gateposts; staircase finials; and incorporated into wooden furniture (including bedposts at the Delphi Club)

  • Seafarers put pineapples outside their homes on their return to show that they were back from their travels and ‘at home’ to visitors
  • An expensive fruit to grow & to transport; remained a luxury until the arrival of steamships
  • Their costliness made them status symbols / indicators of wealth and rank. Displaying or serving pineapple showed that guests were honoured. And, coincidentally, that the hosts were loaded.
  • In the 1920s the grandest dinners apparently needed both “a pineapple and Lady Curzon” (I have been asked whether this is Interwar Period code for some sort of disreputable activity… let’s hope the answer is ‘yes’)

           Ornamental Pineapple at Ham House - James Long @ Wikimedia

  • The future Queen Elizabeth was sent 500 cases of canned pineapple as a wedding present from Australia. She asked them “Hev you come far?” Prince Phillip’s reaction was – apart from the word ‘pineapple’ – unprintable
  • In the play Abigail’s Party (Mike Leigh) pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks were used as a plot device to highlight the desperate social ambitions of a hellish hostess trying to impress & outclass her guests
  • A 1930s ad promised that by baking a pineapple pie a wife would make her man “smack his lips in real he-man enjoyment” (NB This may not work so well in the 2010s) 

By Appointment to HM the Queen

ARTS & CRAFTS

  • Used on Wedgwood pottery designs as early as the 1760s; others soon followed suit
  • Became widely used decoratively as a motif for gateposts, weather vanes, door lintels, wallpaper, table linen & curtains, and incorporated into furniture
  • Depicted as curiosities in early botanical engravings (Commelin 1697 Hortus Botanicus)

Commelin - Engraving - Ananas - Hortus Botanicus 1697

  • Featured in still life paintings as a crowning example of opulence (e.g. De Heem, Jan van Os)

                                  Josef Schuster

  • Depicted in plant and fruit studies, for example these by Johann Christoph Volckamer, very early c18        
  • Occasionally found in Church stained glass windows (e.g. St Lawrence’s, Jersey)

Églyise_Pârouaîssiale_dé_Saint_Louothains_Jèrri Man Vyi * Wikimedia

  • Featured in music e.g. Pineapple Rag (Scott Joplin); Pineapple Head (Crowded House); Escape – The Piña Colada Song (Rupert Holmes); Pineapple Express (Huey Lewis); Pineapple (Sparks) 

  • Used as a motif on shutters in Marsh Harbour 

SPORT

  • The Men’s Singles Trophy at  Wimbledon is a silver gilt cup with a gilded pineapple on top of the lid. It used to mean “Welcome back, Roger!” Now it stands for the first British male singles win since 1937 (‘Go, Andy!’). [British women have fared rather better in the singles in that time ('Go, Angela, Ann & Virginia!')]

MOTORING

  • Vauxhall produced the Vauxhall Astra Sport in ‘tasteful’ Pineapple yellow. For the history of the use of the far more glamorous Bahama Yellow  in motoring, click HERE

10 TASTY PINEAPPLE CHUNKS

  • The cocktail Afterglow is 1 part grenadine, 4 parts orange juice & 4 parts pineapple juice on ice
  • Piña Colada is rum, coconut milk & crushed pineapple. Omit the rum for a Virgin Colada
  • It is impossible, for chemical reasons, to make jelly with fresh pineapple
  • “Pineapple heat” was once a standard marking on thermometers
  • A pineapple grows as two interlocking helixes (8 one way, 13 the other – each being a Fibonacci number)
  • A pineapple will never become any riper than it was when harvested
  • Workers who cut up pineapples eventually have no fingerprints – a gift fact for crime writers
  • Pineapple stems are being tested for anti-cancer properties
  • Pine Apple, a small Alabama town full of pineapple symbols, was originally named “Friendship” but there turned out to be another town called that, so they changed it
  • Features on the Bahamian 5 cents coin…

  • …and  a $1 stamp

BAHAMAS PINEAPPLE STAMP

Read Jim Kerr’s interesting article in ABACO LIFE on Abaco’s pineapple past HERE

FRANCESCA BEAUMAN 2006

THE PINEAPPLE – KING OF FRUITS

If you want to find out more about pineapples, their  history and social significance, you should be able to pick up a copy of this book on Am@z%n, Abe or ALibris for a few dollars

“What?” I hear you cry, “you’ve managed a whole page about pineapples without mentioning modern advertising”. Shall I do so now? The man from Del Monte, he says YES

Sources: Own ideas + some magpie-thieving-borrowing from a variety of sources, many of which contain identical info and / or quote from the above book. Hope everyone is comfortable with that…

NB Not every fact above is strictly 100% true, so expect to be challenged if you try one out. In particular Prince Phillip is of course naturally docile and gentle-mouthed…

POST SCRIPT The first 21 Fibonacci numbers (just add 2 successive numbers to produce the next) are

F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 F13 F14 F15 F16 F17 F18 F19 F20
0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377 610 987 1597 2584 4181 6765

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HOPE TOWN, ABACO: DOLPHINS & A LIGHTHOUSE IN THE SUN


Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 13

HOPE TOWN, ABACO: DOLPHINS & A LIGHTHOUSE IN THE SUN

A trip to Hope Town and Elbow Cay is a always a treat. Especially if it includes lunch with friends. Most of my previous visits have been in cloud or rain, so the glory of the historic and indeed iconic candy-striped lighthouse has been rather marred. I left Delphi in hot sunshine, but it began to cloud over ominously during the half-hour drive north to Marsh Harbour and Albury’s Ferry Terminal. I was still optimistic when I arrived, though…Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 2…until I looked the other way. The 20-minute crossing of the Sea of Abaco to Elbow Cay was characterised by a sudden pelting rain storm and a churning sea. A passenger lay down greenly, and I began to count the minutes.Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 1However, as we approached Hope Town we emerged from the gloom into bright sun, and a fine view of the lighthouse. This edifice has one of the last remaining kerosene-lit lights in the world, attended to every 2 hours throughout the night by volunteers. The mechanism sits on a bed of mercury, and the light shines through the original fresnel lenses. Much of the original british-made machinery is still in place. For a tour round the interior, with excellent photos taken by Mrs RH, and views from the top platform, click HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 3 Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 4Lunch at the pleasant Harbour’s Edge Restaurant was enhanced by two – or was it three? – bottlenose dolphins that swam around the harbour. I was torn between eating, chatting  and photographing them. I didn’t catch the wonderful lazy arcs they made as the broke the surface and slowly arched back into the water. It was near impossible to predict where they would surface next. Here are a couple of less dramatic shots… Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 11Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 5After lunch there was time for a quick wander round the attractive little town, with its pastel-coloured houses. Hope Town 1a

There was a YELLOW ELDER tree in bloom, the national flower of the Bahamas. [Later: as it turns out, I was caught in the act... of photography]Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 7Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 6996860_10200325236513792_581389694_n

Hummingbird Cottage Art Centre and Gallery

I was taken to see the new HUMMINGBIRD COTTAGE ART CENTRE & GALLERY  a fine work of building restoration in the centre of town that provides a surprisingly large exhibition space and an idyllic place for art classes and related activities.

DSC_0076-150x150Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 10Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 8Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 9Later, I took the ferry back to Marsh Harbour, taking a final good look at the lighthouse, still thankfully in full sunlight against a vivid blue sky.Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 12Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 15  Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 14Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 16

LINKS

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE: THE WORKS

YELLOW ELDER: BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER

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ALBURY’S FERRY SERVICE

and for a comprehensive overview of Hope Town and Elbow Cay

hopetown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hummingbird Cottage ©Brigitte Bowyer

SAWMILL SINK, ABACO: INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE


Sawmill Sink (adventureactivist youtube)

SAWMILL SINK, ABACO: INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE

1. BLUE HOLES

The Blue Holes of Abaco are geological wonders about which much has been written – much of it in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. Sawmill Sink is one of the best-known inland ones; and there are other holes in the shallow seas on both sides of the island. They are deep chasms in the limestone rock, many leading to extensive and complex cave systems under the island. Divers exploring Sawmill Sink have found many prehistoric fossils, including those of an extinct giant tortoise, and land crocodiles. Most conveniently, this fascinating blue hole is close to Delphi, hidden deep in the pine forest and accessible only by historic logging tracks.

LOGGING TRACK TO SAWMILL SINKSawmill Sink Abaco 19

AERIAL VIEW OF SAWMILL SINK DEEP IN THE PINE FORESTSawmill Sink Map copy

This article is not about Blues Holes in general, nor Sawmill Sink  specifically. I have such a post planned, but for the moment I’ll put some relevant links at the end of this one. Feel free to scroll straight there if the cumbersome heading has already put you off… but in an effort to hold your interest, here’s an image of the Sink to give you an idea of what it looks like. There are wooden steps down and a platform to enable you to swim in it (there are no crocodiles these days. So they say…).

SAWMILL SINK, ABACOSawmill Sink Abaco 8

2. A LOGGING HISTORY

South Abaco – defined loosely as the area south of Marsh Harbour – is dominated by pine forest. There are a few settlements and individual residences, all by the coast. The forested swathes are criss-crossed by an extensive system of logging tracks, many now all but impassable. They are reminders of Abaco’s historic importance as a source of wood deriving from the ubiquitous tall, slim pines. One use to which they were put was as mine pit props in the collieries of Wales.

 1996.2039.db

Last June when we went to Sawmill Sink, we saw a rusty rail sticking up from the undergrowth. We were with Ricky Johnson, the man who could invariably answer any question about Abaco; he explained that there had at one time been a light railway through the forest to carry the felled timber to the highway, where it was transported to the coast for loading onto ships.Sawmill Sink Abaco 17

Last month we returned to Sawmill Sink. The south part of the island was enduring the annual outbreak of forest fires, most (if not all) believed to be set by hunters wanting to clear to undergrowth to make hog-hunting easier. While the occasional natural fire is actually good for the forest (cf burning moorland), the set fires do great damage over a vast area. On some days there were 6 or more separate seats of fire appearing in one day – highly unlikely to be the work of nature. Thick palls of smoke drifted across the island, and out to sea. Even far out on the Marls, the fires were visible, with the smell of burning carried on the wind. This year, the fires came uncomfortably close to some of the settlements. Night-long community action was needed in some places to protect property. At Delphi, the fires came within 300 feet or so before finally fizzling out in the coppice… Two years ago, they  came nearly as close. For a post-fire wander round the Delphi drive circuit click FOREST FIRES (it was one of the first, tentative posts on this blog – and boy, does it show… it needs a rethink)

DELPHI GUEST DRIVE: A WARM WELCOMEForest Fire, Delphi, Abaco

The photos that follow show the track to Sawmill Sink immediately after a fire had swept through the area. Trees were still smouldering and in places the ground was still hot to the touch. Along the way the evidence of the former usage had been laid bare. Some images show the paved path that leads from the logging track to the Sink. I have no idea if these are the first images of so many visible remains of the logging trade, revealed by the burnt-off undergrowth. I haven’t tracked down any others at all so far. I write as a non-resident of the island, so if anyone can add any information, please do so via the COMMENT box. Sawmill Sink Abaco 1 Sawmill Sink Abaco 2 Sawmill Sink Abaco 3 Sawmill Sink Abaco 5 Sawmill Sink Abaco 6 Sawmill Sink Abaco 7 Sawmill Sink Abaco 9 Sawmill Sink Abaco 10 Sawmill Sink Abaco 11 Sawmill Sink Abaco 12 Sawmill Sink Abaco 13 Sawmill Sink Abaco 14

Finally, we found this rock close to the Sink. Are those plant fossils? Bearing in mind that sea probably covered this area entirely (the highest point on Abaco is a mere 134 feet ASL), might these be anemones or sponge fossils of some sort? Comments from fossilologists welcome.

STOP PRESS thanks to FOSSIL LADY (aka Kathi) for the following: “Those don’t look like plant fossils to me, they remind me of stromatolites, a sponge like creature that first dominated the earth billions of years ago. Some varieties still survive today. It would be worth it to have a geologist have a look see. ps the sinkhole is awesome!”Sawmill Sink Abaco 15

SOME BLUE HOLE LINKS TO EXPLORE 

BAHAMAS CAVES RESEARCH FOUNDATION

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

ADVANCED DIVER MAGAZINE ARTICLE

As a reward for having waded through the smoke and ash above, here’s a short video of what you can see if you dive in a blue hole. It’s worth saying (1) that you need to check you are allowed dive – some holes are subject to ongoing research and (2) blue hole diving and caving is an inherently unsafe activity unless you have the right equipment and know exactly (by which I don’t mean “hey, I can wing it”) what you are doing… 

Photo credits: all RH except header (adventureactivist, youTube); pit props (Scottish Mining Museum); aerial view (Gmaps)