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…

ABACO: COLOURFUL EVEN DURING TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR


-tropical-storm-arthur

Storm Tracker 13

ABACO: COLOURFUL EVEN DURING TROPICAL STORM ARTHUR

As Tropical Storm Arthur blows northwards increasing in strength, Abaco has begun to get its sunshine back. TS Arthur, then defined as a Tropical Depression, hung around over the Northern Bahamas for four days or so before finally clearing. In the past I wrote daily posts about Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy at a time when information was surprisingly hard to come by. Now everyone is on Facebook and it’s easy to post (or find) cyclone reports, maps, path projections and so on. I’m always struck by the contrast between the bleak, dark-clouded snaps that people put up on their FB pages and the cheerfully coloured weather maps that mark the passage of the storm. Here are a few for Tropical Depression Arthur when over Abaco and moving north, taken from the most useful mainstream sites. My favourite is the National Hurricane Center NOAA where the graphic information is presented in a number of formats. However MIKE’S WEATHER PAGE is a good first resort for information – ‘Like’ it and you’ll get the reports you need. For a plethora of graphics on every hurricane aspect, move on to his website http://www.spaghettimodels.com 

Tropical Storm Arthur Weatherbug 2Tropical Storm Arthur Weatherbug 1 Tropical Storm Arthur Weather Underground (props to MOWMuseum Abaco)Props to Man-o-War Museum which posted the image above on FB. The purple pin is Abaco

Tropical Storm Arthur Accuweather GIFThere’s nothing like a GIF to show which way the wind is blowing…

Tropical Storm Arthur NOAA 2Tropical Storm Arthur NOAA 1

IMG_2787IMG_2789 - Version 2

Whenever there’s a bad storm or a hurricane, it’s worth visiting the NASA ISS site for dramatic images from the Space Station. The following link will take you to a dramatic photo of Hurricane Irene in 2011 HERE There’s a search facility on the site. This is a fine image of TS Arthur, illustrating the characteristic swirl pattern of a tropical storm.

Tropical.Storm Arthur NASA_ISS Props Reid Wiseman & Chris ChadwickJPG

Compare the bright graphics above with the reality for those under the massed clouds in strong wind and scything rain… Cheers for these vividly gloomy images to Julias Sawyer, Cindy James Pinder and Albury’s Ferries (who post almost daily images of Abaco weather as the ‘Donnies’ ply the seas between the main island and the outlying Cays with their passengers and cargo…)

TD Arthur, over Abaco Julias Sawyer Tropical Storm BPS Cindy James Pinder TS Arthur Albury's Ferry Service

I can’t resist adding an ‘Abaco summer weather’ photograph taken by Amanda Diedrick on Green Turtle Cay. There was a passing bout of bad weather was a couple of weeks back, and Amanda managed to take this extraordinary photo of a bolt of forked lightning apparently burning straight through a small cloud. It’s difficult to get a good lightning shot without special cameras, compartic lenses, Fitzallan filters, aperture reticulators and the like. She did it!*

Lightning Bolt GTC Amanada Diedrick

The start of the summer season is a good time to roll out the Saffir-Simpson Scale, from which you will see how the various intensities of storm are graded. It’s colourful as well.

Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale

Credit: ‘Watts Up With That” – an excellent weather & climate site

 *All camera terminology is invented to make it seem as if i know what I am talking about. Beyond ‘Point and  Shoot’, I’m lost…

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO – THE GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE


DCB for Vista

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO – THE GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE

Rolling Harbour, location of the Delphi Club, is a mile-long curving sandy bay on the east side of South Abaco, half an hour’s drive south of Marsh Harbour. It is marked on a handful of old maps and a couple of more recent ones. Other than that, it keeps itself pretty much to itself. Here’s a 30-second, 180º panoramic movie from the beach. Blue skies. Blue water. Turquoise water. White sand. 4250 miles from where I am right now…

Abaco Map showing Rolling HabourAbaco Map showing Rolling Habour ('The Johnson Map')

 

 

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…

ABACO: AN IMPORTANT BIRDING AREA IN THE BAHAMAS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 11

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot

ABACO: AN IMPORTANT BIRDING AREA IN THE BAHAMAS

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. 

BNT BIRD ARTICLE 2 JPG copy

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD Mimus gundlachiiBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 3BNT BIRD ARTICLE 3 JPGBAHAMA WOODSTAR Calliphlox evelynae              Bahama Woodstar BPS BNT BIRD ARTICLE 4 JPGBAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypsis rostrataBahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8 BNT BIRD ARTICLE 5 JPG

CUBAN EMERALD Chlorostilbon ricordiiCuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 1Credits: BNT; Bahama Woodstar, Ann Capling with thanks; the rest, RH

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO


Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 7

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO

I’ve been keeping this little bird up my capacious avian-friendly sleeve for a while. In June we took a truck and headed for deep backcountry to the edge of the pine forests and beyond to see what we could find in the way of birdlife. Good choice – the answer was ‘plenty’.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 5

Among the birds we encountered were the endemic Bahama swallows, hairy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kingbirds, red-legged thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, western spindalises, tobacco doves, La Sagra’s flycatchers, crescent-eyed pewees with a nest and eggs, a wonderful ‘booming display’ by antillean nighthawks courting during an early evening fly hatch**… and Bahama yellowthroats Geothlypis rostrata.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 1

The illustrative photos are of poor quality, but rather than blame my camera (as I am only too ready to do), I plead ‘overexcitement’ in mitigation. Of the 4 endemic species on Abaco, this was the only one I’d never seen. There was a tweeting noise on the edge of an abandoned sugar cane field (above), followed by  some rustling… and out fluttered this bird, crossing the track right by us and landing quite close to inspect us. Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 2

This striking bird, with its Zorro mask and bright yellow body, is an endearing mix of shy and inquisitive. Only the males have the mask – the females are less colourful, though naturally equally interesting… Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8

Yellowthroats are responsive to pishing, and once lured from cover they may happily remain on low-to-medium height branches or on a shrub, watching you watching them.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 3

Their song is quite easily imitated, and that may also bring them into the open – a source of immense satisfaction to the amateur (me) if it works. Here’s an example, courtesy of my iPH@NE METHOD for bird recording. It’s the call at the start and the end.

The one we watched had plenty to sing about – it’s just a shame that my images are so poor, because in some you can see its tiny tongue. A bit too blurry, though, even by my own moderate standards for inclusion.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 4

At a formative stage of this blog, I did a short post about the endemic Bahama Yellowthroat and its comparisons with the similar and better-known Common Yellowthroat, which is also found in the Bahamas. You can read it HERE. There’s a female shown, a video, and an unacknowledged debt to Wiki or similar source, I can’t help but notice…Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 6

**ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS AND THE ‘BOOMING DISPLAY’

Common Nighthawk Photo “On summer evenings, keep an eye and an ear out for the male Nighthawk’s dramatic “booming” display flight. Flying at a height slightly above the treetops, he abruptly dives for the ground. As he peels out of his dive (sometimes just a few meters from the ground) he flexes his wings downward, and the air rushing across his wingtips makes a deep booming or whooshing sound, as if a racecar has just passed by. The dives may be directed at females, territorial intruders, and even people.” We found ourselves right in the middle of one of these astounding displays, with maybe 100 birds behaving exactly as described, often whooshing within inches of our heads. I’ll post some more about it in due course. Credits: Philip Simmons; All About Birds (Cornell Lab)

Toyota Truck, Abaco Backcountrygeothlypis_rostrata RANGE MAP

PHILATELY WILL GET YOU… NICE BAHAMAS WILDLIFE STAMPS


Parrot

WILDLIFE STAMPS OF THE BAHAMAS

with guest expert PHIL LATTERLY

The Bahamas ‘does’ extremely nice stamps, in particular ones featuring the rich and varied wildlife of the islands. The islands spread from the subtropical climates of the north, on a level with Florida, to the near-tropical islands of the south. This ensures plenty of scope for designing pretty sticky bits of paper to stick onto other bits of paper. One of the small pleasures in life, near-lost to the tyranny of the email…

The sets of wildlife stamps are issued by the Bahamas Post Office. I’ll add to this collection piecemeal (including some from my own modest collection). The very latest commemorative issue heads the display.

1. SEA CREATURES

BREEF 20th Anniversary Issue – November 2013IMG_2918

REEF FISHESBahamas Reef Fish StampsBahamas Bonefish Stamp (old-style)Bahamas Marine Life Stamps 2012

2. BIRDS

February 2012: WWF Flamingo Issue

Best seen on Inagua, the island where they breed. Less often found elsewhere, and sadly now only as occasional ‘vagrants’ on Abaco. Flamingo post with wonderful pictures of adults, babies and nests HEREBahamas Wildlife Stamps Flamingos

PARROT POST

Found mainly on Abaco (the resident underground nesting variety) and Inagua (conventional nesters), where they breed. Small groups are now found elsewhere, e.g. Nassau, where there is a local monitoring programme, but I’m not sure that there is evidence of breeding there. Any info welcome… One (of several) lavishly illustrated parrot posts HERE

 Impressive commemorative issues for the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST

OTHER BIRD SPECIES

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey

The KIRTLAND’S WARBLER is one of the rarest birds of the Bahamas, a winter resident that breeds only in a small area of Michigan. The entire population is numbers only a few thousand birds. The number of sightings annually on Abaco is very small – fewer than a dozen, and in some years none at all. Increasing knowledge about their favourite haunts is now improving the recording rate. I know of two seen this year, on the same day… a birder’s lifetime achievement.

Bahamas Stamps Kirtland's Warbler (eBay)

This swallow is endemic to the Bahamas

Found on Abaco only as an occasional visitor.

stock-photo-a-bahamas-stamp-featuring-a-burrowing-owl-on-the-face-10479643 copy

WATERFOWL                Credit as shown

3. ANIMALS

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Set

Bahamas Wildlife Stamps Sept 1984Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Set - Bat, Hutia, Raccoon, DolphinBahamas Potcake Stamps (First Day Cover)

4 BUTTERFLIES & INSECTSBahamas Butterfly Stamps

Credits: A compendious credit to sundry online sources including Bahamas PO, Bahamas Weekly, eBay and other sales / promotional sources, ads and the like, and unknown sources. I rarely find myself having to use this broad sweep approach: if your pic is here and you are upset, apologies, contact me to express your displeasure &co and I’ll take it down of course. But these are only non-rare small bits of paper; and this is a humble non-profit making info site of limited appeal in a Big Wide World. OK with that?

ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013 ON NOVEMBER 9: BE IN IT TO WIN IT!


ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013

kayak logo 2013

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

Friends of the Environment (Abaco) logo

Join Friends in support of the Abaco Cancer Society and Friends of the Environment for Abaco’s third annual Kayak Challenge on November 9th at Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour.

Pete's Pub

“Any craft you can paddle will be welcome, from kayaks, paddle boards and canoes – just no engines!  There will be 3 courses to choose from: 5 miles, 8 miles, or 13 miles that will take paddlers into and through the scenic Bight of Old Robinson, part of the proposed East Abaco Creeks National Park. Paddlers will be welcomed back with a Beach party at Pete’s Pub.” 

Pete’s Pub: “Thirst come, thirst served…”Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

THE THREE COURSES

5 Mile Course

5 mile paddle2013

8 Mile Course

8 mile2013

13 Mile Course

13 mile paddle2013

SUPPORT FRIENDS & BMMRO INTERN OSCAR WARD AS HE NEGOTIATES THE PERILS OF THE “BIG ONE”; AND FOLLOW HIS INTERN’S BLOG HERE 

“Support boats will be available to assist, but paddlers should plan to bring adequate water and snacks for the trip. Remember, the sun in The Bahamas is hot, so pack your sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and if you burn easily, clothing to cover yourself up with along the way. Kayaking is a water activity, so be aware that anything that goes in the kayak with you will get wet whether it be from a splash from passing boat wake, drops from paddles, or a quick rain storm. Kayaking is a physical activity, remember the further you venture, the further the paddle to return.”

There will be a beach barbeque & party for spectators to cheer the paddlers on as they come in from their journey.

For more information call the FRIENDS office at 367-2721 or email info@friendsoftheenvironment.org

Bring your own Tee…Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

 Registration form, sponsorship form and waiver 

 Sponsorship donations can be made on-line

 Kayak Challenge event page on Facebook

Kayak Challenge Sponsors Cherokee AirHope Town Harbour LodgeThe Paint PlaceLightbourne MarinePete’s Pub and GalleryShirley Enterprises, Bon Secours Medical Group, Sands Marine Surveying & Consulting, Marsh Exporters and Importers, Ltd, Abaco Petroleum Company Ltd, Abaco Family Medicine, Abaco Tourist Office

Non-participatory support from a respectful distance (4250 miles) from

Delphi Bonefish LogoHighly competitive and vigorous kayak practice off the Delphi Club beach, Rolling HarbourKayak, Delphi Club, Abaco Bahamas

MOUNT ABACO: THE ISLAND’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 feet)


Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

MOUNT ABACO: THE ISLAND’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 feet)

The header photograph is not in fact anything to do with Abaco. Apologies for any confusion. It’s the Matterhorn, towering over the border of Switzerland and Italy, complete with high altitude, year-round snow and sub-zero temperatures. Abaco has its own excellent skiing, of course, but solely of the watery sort. However, recently the question arose as to exactly where the highest point on Abaco is situated. All sources agree that the altitude is a dizzying 134 feet, with some equating that with 40 meters and others with 41. It would be nit-picking to use the straight conversion of 40.8432 meters.

I once did a post comparing the altitude of Abaco with Mount Everest – if you have the patience, you’ll find it HERE. A check on G@@gle throws up a fascinating site called PEAKBAGGER. Click on the link and it takes you to the Abaco entry; but elsewhere on the site there is a mass of remarkable worldwide altitude information that you could easily spend an hour or 2 investigating. The essential info for Abaco is this:

  • Elevation: 41 meters, 134 feet
  • Name: “Unnamed High Point”
  • Latitude/Longitude: 26° 34′ 6” N; 77° 8′ 14” W 26.568399, -77.137319
  • 3rd highest point in the Bahamas
  • 54th highest point in the Caribbean
  • 1014th highest island point in the world (which seems very unlikely, somehow)
  • Nearest high point is on Eleuthera
  • No ‘ascents’ by registered ‘Peakbaggers’ (this is now on my bucket-list for easy personal achievements)

Peakbagger’s map places the high point close to the Highway north of Marsh Harbour. This puzzled me, partly because I remember Ricky Johnson showing us a significant rocky outcrop deep in the pine forest of south Abaco. Also, the land relief shown on the Peakbagger map suggests a higher ridge to the north-west of the red circle.Abaco High Point Map 1

So I did what any Abaco researcher would do – I contacted Sandy Estabrook, éminence grise behind the wonderful ABACO ESCAPE website. Within a very short time he got back to me with a clipping from a nautical map, confirming the high point’s location as the one given by Peakbagger. Abaco Nautical Chart

Far more importantly, it turned out that Sandy actually ascended the summit in 2009 with a friend and without oxygen. His expedition journal states simply “Heading South along Queens Hwy, Frank pointed out a hill on the Sea of Abaco side of the road. It had quite some elevation of over a hundred feet or more it seemed. (I have not seen a higher place in all of Abaco). And atop the hill was a tower that I was told was built by real estate interests some years ago for prospective clients to view the surroundings. We climbed the tower and I took a couple picts”

The tower will be familiar to travellers passing by on the Highway. I had read that this was a good place to look out for birds, and had assumed it was some sort of fire-watching tower. The use of a tower to scope out land for development is an ingenious one, but the landscape is mercifully still undeveloped. Here are some photos from the vantage point.

View roughly south-east from the tower to Hope Town. The lighthouse is just visible to the right.Frank View from Tower 84 copy

Looking north-east, with Great Guana Cay just visible on the horizonFrank View from Tower 82 copy

The view north(ish) along the ridge, with the Highway snaking up to Treasure CayFrank View from Tower 83 copy

AERIAL VIEWSMount Abaco 5 copyMount Abaco 3 copy

Normally, high points acquire a name at some time. Even quite low ones. Perhaps Abaco’s high point deserves one. In which case, Parrot Peak? (But the parrots, while symbolic of the island, don’t frequent the area). Hummingbird Hill? (Tiny and perfectly formed). A134? (Uninspiring). All suggestions welcome…

STOP PRESS Within 24 hours, John Bethel has kindly to say “I have always known this hill to be called Pidgeon Hill”. So, it has a name already. I’ll try to find out some more about this – for example whether the name is historic or recent. Can anyone add anything to this?

Thanks to Sandy Estabrook and to Peakbagger

 Abaco Escape logoPeakbagger Logo

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here

‘FAMILIAR FECES': CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES


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‘FAMILIAR FECES': CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES

UPDATE I name-checked BMMRO intern Oscar Ward’s blog below. Now he’s been out on the ocean on ‘poop patrol’. You can read Oscar’s account of his experiences HERE

Among the many pleasures for cetacean research scientists must be the joy of whale poop collection. Followed by close inspection and analysis. The Bahamas  Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO conducts research expeditions, in conjunction with such organisations as the New England Aquarium NEAQ and Friends of the Environment FOTE, in Abaco waters and further afield in the Bahamas. The attention this year has been on beaked whale feces, though available sperm whale feces are not to be sniffed at. Images and info below are courtesy of the organisations mentioned above, with thanks for use permission

TopHead_070815o_01_Md_DEC_035

A researcher working with BMMRO demonstrates feces collection using coffee grounds. She collects the coffee granules in her net and places the entire sample into a ziplock bag, ready to hand to the boat for processing 269

The purpose of feces collection is to look at the stress and reproductive hormones of the whales and to gather a baseline for these animals with which to compare other populations that are under threat3

An alternative method of collectionpoop15

Blainville’s Beaked Whales (suppliers of raw research material)Blainville's Beaked Whale AbacoBeaked whale - supplier of poop BMMRO

There are some conditions – dare I say windy ones – when Blainville’s beaked whales may be hard to locate. At such times, collection of pieces of other species feces rarely ceases… Here is a sperm whale in the act of producing laboratory samplesTail_18Jun10_01_Pm_CAD_123

Weather of the sort that makes the day’s collection more complicated. Indeed, it looks and uphill task…GOPR0109

That’s enough on the topic for now. Later in the month there will be some great dolphin pictures to enjoy. Below is the BMMRO sightings chart for July, which I forgot to publish sooner.

Finally, a young UK friend of ours, Oscar Ward, has recently won his place to study marine biology at university next Autumn. He has just arrived on Abaco to start an internship with the BMMRO at Sandy Point. He will then be moving to Friends of the Environment in MH. He has set up an excellent blog to record his experiences, with his first Abaco post going up today, I notice. You can follow Oscar at SEVENTYPERCENT.COM And if you see him around, do say hi! to him.

BMMRO SIGHTINGS JULY 2013

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)

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


hole-in-the-wall-print-1803

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

I am very pleased to be able to feature a Guest Contributor Fabian Fernander, managing editor and owner of SANDY SLIPPER TRAVEL and online magazine. The boat-building history of the Bahamas, of Abaco, and in particular of Man-o-War Cay, is a fascinating one. It is not a subject in my own repertoire, so I welcome the chance to showcase Fabian’s article and the wonderful historic photos courtesy of the MAN-O-WAR HERITAGE MUSEUM.

maurice-albury-building-dinghy-mow-19xx

Maurice Albury building dinghy on MOW cay 19xx

“Who would ever think nestled in the heart of the Bahamas. Hidden away from view. Inaccessible by large planes and removed from the hum of technology; would be a boat building village in the Bahamas.

Man of war cay (named after the bird) is a small yet well knitted community of bustling boat builders, that have been graced with their skill from generation to generation.

Residents here have always depended on shipbuilding for its livelihood and some boats are still handmade-without-plans in a tradition that has been passed down for centuries.”

boat-under-construction-wa-albury-yard-19602

Boat under construction W.H. Albury yard 1960

“The town has remained untransformed over time and resembles a New England sea-side village; and rightly so.

As its original inhabitants were both religious and political escapees; loyalist to be exact.

It is through resilience that these men and women who fled from their homes, picked up and honed the trait of boat building.

In the early days of boat building the residents began by using Abaco Pine to craft their world renowned fishing and sailing vessels.”

basil-sands-working-on-a-boatwh-albury-yard-1960

Basil Sands working on a boat, at the W.H. Albury yard 1960

“Boats were originally built by crafting a skeleton or rib of the boat from pine that grew locally in the Abaco forests. These skeletons were then hand carved and shaved to conform perfectly to the palms-up-spread template of the hull.

After the ribs were coupled, pine wood planks were then affixed to form the hull of the boat.

During the 1960′s when Abaco pine became a quintessential element in building structures and homes in all of the islands, the procurement of pine for boat building became harder and harder.

It is during that period that innovation reared its head once again and fiberglass became the material of choice to continue the successful process of building renown fishing and sailing vessels.

Using fiberglass as molds was a very expensive process, but in modernization a necessary tool that reduced the amount of manual labor required.

The frame of the wooden boat was coated with the fiberglass material and from this a permanent mold was created, which was then used to make the outer shell of numerous boats.

This style of boat is called the Outboard Runabout (or the Outboard Fishing Boat).

Many other types of boats are also made including model boats, 14 ‘ wooden Man O’War sailing dinghies and 21′ Man O’War speed boats.

The boats have become collectors items and much requested custom designed artifacts.”

william-h-albury-schooner1

The William H Albury Schooner

“Man o’ War Village: another one of the hidden secrets of the Bahama Islands”

“About the author: Fabian Christopher is the Managing editor and owner of Sandy Slipper Travel and online magazine. An avid enthusiast of the Bahamas, he is always ready and available to make your vacation dreams in the islands a memorable experience.”

Sandy Slipper Logo

MoW Museum Logo

Photo credits  MAN-O-WAR HERITAGE MUSEUM 

(except for historic 1803 aquatint header of the ‘late’ Hole-in-the Wall)

[RH note: If you have enjoyed this article, I recommend a visit both to Fabian's website (link in the first para), and to the Museum's website, also linked above, where you will find a wealth of historical Abaco material]

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


STS060-84-32

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

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

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

Abaco Map NASA:ISSA annotated STS060-84-33

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

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

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

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

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


Schooner (Wiki)

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

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

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

hole-in-the-wall-print-1803

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

Hole-in-the-Wall aerial view

MAPS

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

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

van Keulen mod

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

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

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

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

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

Abaco 1898 George Cram

LIST OF PREVIOUS HitW POSTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


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

17th October 2012

Jack Bowers and friends visited Hole-in-the-Wall and took what are probably the last photos of Hole-in-the-Wall before Hurricane Sandy struck, and the central arch was smashed into the sea – this one below, and others HERE

6th November 2012

Less than 3 weeks later, John Haestad made the same trip towards the end of the promontory. This time, it was different. The arch was gone. Beyond the breach, a new islet, separated from the mainland by a foaming channel. John has kindly given use permission, and you are now looking at what may be the first image of Abaco’s new geography. A feature that had appeared on maps since at least the early c18, been a landmark for marine navigation for centuries, and lent its name to the lighthouse station, has gone forever. A very small island at the southeastern tip of Abaco has been born…

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL PROMONTORY, ABACO
(Since posting this, Jack Bowers has come up with ‘Holy Isle’, which has a certain ring to it…)

ADDITION I have now found a photo by Jennifer Arrington (to whom thanks for use permission) which shows from a helpful angle both the intact Hole and the small tip of land beyond, now an island. Many photographers are understandably drawn to the Hole itself by the time they have trekked across the sharp uneven rocks to get to it. This is one of the few I have found that gives a wider perspective.

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL: THE ‘ISLAND’ BEFORE IT BECAME ONE…

AFTERWORD FROM ROLLING HARBOUR

For an interesting philosophical and metaphysical discussion on whether the collapse of the arch made any sound if there was no one (and / or no living creature) there to hear it, check out IF A TREE FALLS IN A FOREST… but please don’t if that sort of arcane  and /or pointless argument drives you mad with irritation 

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK


HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL

HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK

A ‘heads-up’ from the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST shows the devastating power of a hurricane-force wind, even at Cat 1 level. After centuries, the eponymous Hole-in-the-Wall has been blasted by Sandy into a Gap-in-the-Wall. Abaco has acquired a new islet, as yet to be named (I propose ‘Sandy Isle’… Or maybe ‘Storm Rock’). The photo below is by Justin Sands, and shows the new view of the southeastern extremity of Abaco. There was until recent times a very similar rock formation on Eleuthera, the Glass Window. It, too, was smashed by a storm and a new road bridge had to be built to link the separated parts (see end of post for image).

This is what the same view looked like until last week, with the ‘bridge’ still standing

Here is a very good close shot by well-known and all-knowing Abaco nature guide Ricky Johnson. There won’t be any more photos like this now… You can see what a large amount of combined wind and wave force it must have taken to blow the bridge apart.

The landmark lighthouse and defunct outbuildings at Hole-in-the-Wall sit just north of a promontory, a sort of Land’s End jutting into the ocean between Abaco and New Providence. The road to it is 15 miles of deteriorating surface through the pine forest of the National Park, and is not for the faint-hearted… see TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

A while ago I traced the history of Abaco, and in particular Hole-in-the-Wall, in maps. I got back as far as 1584 for Abaco itself, a map by Ortelius where Abaco appears as ‘Haraco’ and the geographical relationships are… vague.

The first mention of Hole-in-the-Wall that I managed to trace was on a map by Couvens in 1737. The name is shown as ‘Hole in the Rock’, and that name alternated with the present one in both English and French, with variations, until settling on ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ in the c20.

To see the full cartographical post see HISTORY OF ABACO / HOLE IN THE WALL IN MAPS

I also researched the pictorial history of Hole-in-the-Wall. Eventually I came across what may be the first pictorial representation of the Hole in the Wall. It is a fascinating aquatint from 1803 by J. Wells, published in The Naval Review and based on a sketch by a ship’s officer that accompanied a description of the southern end of Abaco for the Review. To put the picture’s age into perspective, it was completed 2 years before Nelson’s decisive victory against the combined French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar.

If you are still awake & would like to see the full post, click HOLE IN THE WALL: 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT

AN ARTISTIC PUZZLE OF LOCATION ATTRIBUTION – A WORK IN PROGRESS

The other notable depiction of Abaco is a print made by (or in conjunction with) the famous artist Winslow Homer, at the time that he was commissioned to produce work in the Bahamas in the 1880s. This print is the subject of ongoing research by myself and others. It is called ‘On Abaco Island’ and clearly shows the Hole in the Wall as we knew it until last week.

Winslow Homer also produced a well-known painting, the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum, entitled ‘Glass Windows’. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to conclude that the painting is based almost exactly on the view in the print. Even if one ignores the geological evidence (eg the structural detail of the rock at the apex of the arch), note the cloud formations that match perfectly. The print predates and was the template for the painting. If the print was the result of Homer’s time in the Bahamas and an undocumented (?) visit ‘On Abaco Island’, so must the painting be…

However, the Homer / Brooklyn painting ‘Glass Windows’ is generally identified with the similar ‘rock hole’ formation on Eleuthera that is actually known as the Glass Window. As I mentioned earlier, the Eleuthera formation suffered the same fate in a storm, and a new road bridge now connects the two sides.Picture credit http://www.eleuthera-map.com (see also http://www.abacomapbahamas.com)

It isn’t easy to tell whether there is any geological similarity between rock structure in the painting and the Glass Window on Eleuthera. However the contention (mine, anyway) is that the Winslow Homer painting ‘Glass Windows’ is of the Hole in the Wall, Abaco and should be recognised as such. The poignancy of last week’s events at HitW – the loss of a well-loved island feature that can never be replaced – arguably makes the thesis more significant.

One further nugget in support of the case is that I have very recently discovered contemporary written evidence that in the second half of the c19, around the time that Homer was working in the Bahamas, the Hole in the Wall, Abaco was known locally as the ‘glass window’. That would explain Homer’s naming of the painting based on the Abaco print, and strengthens (concludes?) the argument that it is, indeed, of Abaco and not Eleuthera. QED. Repatriate Winslow!

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO: HISTORIC 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT


HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: A HISTORIC DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT FROM 1803

I recently traced the history of Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco through maps from the 16th century onwards – its significance, the name changes, and so on. To see that post CLICK HERE . I have just come across some historical material about HITW that is so fascinating that I have awarded the accolade of a separate post, rather than lumping it in with the earlier one. The extract below is from THE NAVAL CHRONICLE (Vol 9) * for January – July 1803. It gives a short but detailed description of the Hole in the Wall in the context of a remarkable sketch (reproduced as a Plate in the book) submitted by the contributor, who signed himself  ‘Half-Pay’. That was the name traditionally used in both Navy and Army to refer to the pay or allowance an officer received when in retirement or not in actual service – or, metonomously, to the officer receiving the reduced pay. I greatly like the charming deference with which the contribution is offered.

The whole book is well worth examining for the light it sheds on Naval matters at the very start of the c19. The comprehensive personnel and other lists hold plenty of interest. This was an era of almost continuous major military and naval campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic. The Battle of Trafalgar was still 2 years away when this book was published. If you want to see the downloadable online version CLICK HERE  [I had to zoom the page and clip it in two to make it easily readable  - hence the gap. And apologies for the purple highlight - it was my place-mark...]


Here is the amazing aquatint  by J. Wells of Half-Pay’s sketch, published in the 1803 Naval Chronicle by founder J.Gold of Shoe Lane, London. It’s quite small, measuring 5½” x 9″. You may even be looking at a screen clip of a scan of the book plate of the earliest surviving depiction of Hole-in-the Wall. If anyone knows of an older one, please get in touch. And can anyone identify what kind of sailing vessels these are (I wouldn’t know a brigantine from a clipper…)?

To answer queries arising from my earlier post, I added a map and photos showing exactly where the actual Hole at HITW is, and how to get there (if you are wearing the right shoes). It’s worth revisiting the topic. People are always fascinated by the extremities of land – ‘Land’s End’, ‘Finisterre’, ‘Finistère’ and so on – especially where they are remote and relatively inaccessible. I think HITW qualifies. As far as I am aware, apart from the lighthouse its abandoned outbuildings at the southeast corner of the first map below, there is no other building in the area covered by this map. The nearest road is 15 miles up the inhospitable track to the north of the lighthouse.

Here is the map showing the location of the actual Hole in the Wall, and below that, a distance shot taken at sea

 * According to The Philadelphia Print Shop “Between 1799 and 1818, The Naval Chronicle, was the pre-eminent maritime journal reporting news about the British navy. Issued twice a year, it was published during a period in which the British navy fought the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812, and came to “rule the waves.” This wonderful journal included action reports, intelligence on various matters related to the British and other navies, and biographies of naval officers. Many of the reports were accounts by officers directly involved, such as Lord Horatio Nelson. Included with the articles were portraits, images of naval action, and views of the many ports in which the navy called. These are important, first-hand images of this turbulent period”

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


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

To begin with, here is a fabulous recent photograph of the actual Hole-in-the-Wall taken by well-known Abaco nature tour guide Ricky Johnson. This picture inspired me to delve into the history of Abaco and its the southernmost extremity, to see how far back it can be traced; and how the island’s recorded history has evolved since the Columbian era.(Photo Credit: Ricky Johnson)

I started by trying to establish the earliest map, and the earliest mention of Hole-in-the-Wall. I don’t have access to written archival material, so I looked instead at historic maps of the Caribbean / Bahamas / Lucayas. The very earliest, from the late c16, simply depict the Bahama Islands / Lucayas as rather random-looking blobs which bear little relation to their actual geographical location or their shape. The islands mostly have quite different names, or variants of familiar spellings. Over the course of 5 centuries, one can trace the progress of place names to those used today – including of Abaco itself. The gradual development of settlements can also been seen – at Little Harbour, Crossing Rocks and ‘Cheeric Sound’, for example, as well as on the ‘Keys’.

The trail starts in the c16. The earliest map I have so far found is the Abraham Ortelius map of 1592, which is a good example of the rather basic map-making of the time. It is quite hard – near impossible – to relate the position of ‘Haraco’ to the other islands depicted.

ADDENDUM I have now uncovered an even earlier and far more ambitious map published in 1550 by the Spanish cartographer Diego Gutiérrez. His incredibly intricate map, for the period, is decorated with volcanos, mermaids, monkeys, and variety of fantastical sea creatures. The first image is a detail of the whole map, showing the Bahamas, a sea monster, and a graphic shipwreck. I have also included an image of the whole map so that the extraordinary range and complexity of this early map can be seen in its entirety.

This colourful and charming 1679 map shows that a very basic style of mapping was still common in the c17

This famous map by A.M.Mallet from 1683, with its enjoyable sea battle vignette, is another good example of the very general nature of the maps, although the design and draftsmanship has advanced considerably

Things become much clearer and more detailed in the c18. The relationship of the islands to each other is shown in geographic reality; and many more details and place names are included. The earliest specific reference to Hole-in-the-Wall (as it now is) that I have so far found is in a 1738 map by Johannes Couvens & Cornelius Mortier. ‘Abaco’ is now spelled as we know it, with ‘Hole in the Rock’ clearly marked. Little Harbour is mentioned, as are 2 ‘Keys’, presumably indicating settlements. 

A 1750 map by Robert of Paris shows the southern tip of Abaco as ‘Trou dans le Roc’. You’ll have to trust me on this – the writing is tiny and impossible to enlarge legibly. The French name is not just because the map maker was French, but probably because it was the name given by French settlers who are believed to have lived in that part of Abaco in the c18 (and quite possibly earlier). Many more settlements are shown, especially on the Cays.

The Cartographer Jacques-Nicolas Bellin, in a 1764 map, also used the french name, though in the plural ‘Trou dans les Roches’, as this much enlarged portion of his ‘Cartes des Isles Lucayes’ shows. Little Harbour – ‘Petit Havre’ – is again included as a distinct settlement, and a few Cays are also named.

John Blair’s map of 1779, below, shows clearly ‘the Hole in the Rock’ – indeed, it is the only named place on Great Abaco. The southern end of Florida looks worryingly fragmented…

For the new century, a map by George Cook dated 1800 shows the first appearance of Little Abaco as a separate entity. Again, Hole in the Rock is the only place on Great Abaco that is marked. Maybe this evidences a continuing significance as a navigation aid.

The good clear map by Thompson dated 1815 provides plenty of excellent detail hitherto lacking in maps of the northern Bahamas. Another name for Hole-in-the-Wall has crept in, shown as ‘Hole of the Rock’. There are some oddities here. A ‘Rocky Point’, usually associated with the south west coast below Sandy Point, is marked on the east coast. Little Harbour is shortened to L.H., indicating perhaps that it had become a familiar enough settlement to warrant abbreviation – unless it stands for Light House, referring to the long-defunct lighthouse there… The word ‘Kay’ is used, a half-way house between the earlier ‘Key’ and the later ‘Cay’. The positions of the Kays seems (now) amusingly off-cay – indeed the relative scales to the main island are quite strange. Green Turtle Cay is some way nor’-nor’-west of Little Abaco…

Harrison’s much simpler map in 1818 also uses ‘Hole of the Rock’, which is the only place shown.                              

As the  c19 progressed, far more sophisticated and detailed map-making – including nautical charts – was undertaken. This extract from a much larger chart by Edmund Blunt from 1827 is the first mapped reference I can find of the name change from ‘Rock’ to ‘Wall’. It is also the earliest I have found Crossing Rocks mentioned on a map, though apparently as a shipping warning rather than an indication of a viable settlement. Walt Disney has yet to visit ‘Key Gorda’.

A new name for the southern extremity entered the scene in 1833 on Thomas Starling’s map of the West Indies. The tip is simply called ‘Light Ho. Pt’, with no reference to Holes, Rocks or Walls – an interesting variation (see below). I have found no other instances of this name.

The interest lies in the fact that the evidence suggests that the Lighthouse at Hole-in-the-Wall was not actually completed until 1836, yet Starling was specifically referencing it 3 years earlier. One could deduce that there was already a basic lighthouse of some description there, soon to be superseded; or perhaps that construction of the Lightstation had already commenced in 1833, and Starling was confident of its eventual completion and wanted to be ahead of the competition… On the left is the notice at the lighthouse station today.

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For a time, maps continued to use ‘Rock’ rather than ‘Wall’ – the 1843 Findlay map has reverted to ‘Hole in the Rock’. Great and Little Abaco are again separately named.

In 1857, a very detailed nautical chart of the area was published. The survey seems to have been carried out by the British Navy for the French, and now detailed depth measurements enter the picture. It seems that new techniques have recently been discovered. I have used only one of the 3 areas mapped, a detail of the southern tip of Abaco. Here, in french, we are back to ‘Wall’ rather than ‘Rock’. For the first time, the lighthouse and associated lightstation buildings have been included, but I haven’t been able to decipher the words in brackets under ‘Phare’.

Mitchell, in a far more basic (pretty border though) 1872 map,reverts to ‘Hole in the Rock’

Two near-identical maps were published in the late c19: the first, by Hardesty, New York, in 1884; the second, by Rand McNally, in 1890. Extracts are shown below, side-by-side. This time, both clearly show ‘Hole in the Wall’. Cay is still spelled ‘Key’. And for the first time I have seen, Cherokee gets a mention as ‘Cheeric’ or ‘Cheerie’ Sound.

      

In the final year of the c19, George Cram of Chicago pubished the most ambitious map of the region so far. By 1899 shipping routes were so well-established that they could be added to maps, increasing their usefulness and therefore sales. He’s back to ‘Hole in the Rock’, though. The names of the Cays are more familiar here, and Pelican Harbor is now included. Cherokee is still in its early form.

The c20 saw the use of the name ‘Hole in the Wall’ becoming predominant, as shown on this Waterlow’s map from 1919. The map also uses the modern-day ‘Cherokee Sound'; and surprisingly this is the first map I came across that names Marsh Harbour (and also Wilson City). The map also marks all Bahamas lighthouses (oddly, although ‘Hole in the Wall’ is marked on a similar map from that period by Harrison & Sons, the red dot for the lighthouse is missing there – presumably in error, since the lighthouse was well-established and functioning at that time). I am left wondering when the hyphens became included in ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’. They are not universal, I have noticed, but seem to be the preferred usage nowadays, making the place a lot more niggly to type!

To end with, a photo of the lighthouse (now automatic) and some of the abandoned buildings. For an account of an intrepid trip to this part of South Abaco CLICK ===>>> ‘TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…

  • This post is by no means exhaustive, and any suggestions, additions or corrections are welcome by way of the COMMENT box or by email to rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
  • Apologies for the very small writing on many of the maps, but in most cases it was not possible to enlarge the image further without also making the written details illegible. 
  • The photos, apart from Ricky’s, are mine. Acknowledgement is given to the variety of sources used for the map extracts, which come mainly from catalogues / sales advertising or open online archives. Any problems? Let me know!

POST SCRIPT: I am very grateful to Marinas.com for permission to download this wonderful aerial image of Hole-in-the-Wall lighthouse and its outbuildings, looking towards the southern tip of Abaco. They have generously enabled a completely cost and watermark-free download. I have added the © detail. Thanks, guys. 

AFTERTHOUGHT I have received a query as to exactly where the eponymous Hole in the Wall, or Rock, can be found in relation to the lighthouse. At the foot of the page is an annotated map which I should no doubt have provided in the first place. The consensus of those who have walked to it (I haven’t yet) is that you’d be well advised to wear walking shoes / boots. Mary Wallace Chamie in a recent POST (check out the link for her VG photos, of which I have included 2 small tasters) says this:

“At first the hike was easy as we followed a cement path through a maze of sea grapes and then hiked further down until we reached the beach.  We took a left at the beach and started hiking across limestone that was full of potholes and sharp edges.  We walked carefully through the maze until we reached a point where we could finally see the Hole in the Wall.

    We then headed back across the limestone craters and up the hill to the lighthouse.  One suggestion I have to any beach comber who takes this hike.  Wear your walking shoes! ” 

To which I can now add this ‘distance shot’ from the sea, which makes it all completely clear. I have contacted the photographer via Panoramia but had no reply. Credit as annotated. If you are the photographer, Hi!. And if you object to its inclusion, please let me know and I’ll remove it…

 

LINKS TO OTHER HOLE-IN-THE-WALL POSTS

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

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO: HISTORIC 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK 

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL BEFORE SANDY DEMOLITION: FIRST & LAST EVER IMAGES

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

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