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


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

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

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

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

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

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

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

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3


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

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3


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

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

10153160_10152104925423929_44675888_n 1926631_10152104925178929_80294246_n11856_10152104921903929_1879699722_n 1525102_10152104925648929_1614125758_n

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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







and for local Bahamas news


Credit: 'Watts Up With That

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


Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 6


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

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







and for local Bahamas news


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

Credit: 'Watts Up With That

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


Mangroves, The Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour)


For some time now, there has been understandable concern about the increasing evidence of mangrove die-back in the Abaco Marls and elsewhere in Abaco waters. Scientific investigations are ongoing and you will find some of the survey results so far on the excellent Abaco Scientist interactive map HERE. You’ll find other relevant and authoritative mangrove material if you check out the BLOG menu of the website.
Abaco - The Marls

The ‘200 sq. miles’ in my map is debatable, depending what one includes. Other estimates are of 300 or even 400 sq. miles. Whichever, the Marls cover a massive area of mangroves, islets, flats, channels and wonderfully diverse wildlife. A large proportion of the many species – fish, birds, turtles etc – depend on the complex ecology of the mangroves for food, shelter and breeding. Depletion of the mangroves from whatever cause will have a direct effect on the creatures of the Marls.

Stingrays Abaco Marls 6

Ryann Rossi, a PhD student with North Carolina State University, has been researching the worrying phenomenon of mangrove die-back in the Marls this summer. She has written an interesting and informative  account (conveniently in the RH ‘Facts about…’ style) that was published in Abaco Scientist last week. The blue links will take you to the ABSCI site for further information on each topic. I’m grateful to Ryann and ABSCI for permission to use the material.

Five Things to Know About the Mangrove Die-back in The Marls (at this point, anyway)

1. This die-back appears to be the result of multiple stressors acting together. Think of it in the sense of our own body – when our immune system is down, we are often more susceptible to getting sick. The same thing is likely happening to the mangroves.Mangrove Die-back 1 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi)

2. It appears as though a fungal disease may be taking advantage of already stressed mangroves and causing die-back. We did preliminary surveys across Abaco and found fungal lesions nearly everywhere. However, the fungus was present in different densities in different areas. In the die-back area nearly all the leaves remaining on trees have lesions. We think that this pathogen capitalized on the mangroves being weakened by other stressors such as hurricanes, which cause extensive leaf drop, change in the movement of water, change in sedimentation and erosion.

Mangrove Die-back 2 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

3. We are still working on identifying the pathogen associated with the lesions we’ve found. We are confident that it is a fungus and are currently growing fungal cultures in the lab to examine defining morphological characteristics in addition to using DNA sequencing to identify the culprit.

4. We have documented the presence of the Robust Bush Cricket (Tafalisca eleuthera) in the die-back areas as well as other areas with high densities of lesions. These crickets are documented to consume Red and White mangrove leaves. As such, we were concerned about their potential role in die-back. We set out a caging experiment to exclude the crickets from certain dwarf Red mangrove trees to see just how much grazing they may be doing in the die-back area. This experiment is ongoing.

Mangrove Die-back 3 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

5. The take home: there is likely more than one causal agent of the die-back in The Marls. Many factors govern mangrove productivity and functioning: nutrient availability, salinity, sedimentation rate, herbivory, and disease are just a few of the factors that contribute to overall mangrove function making it very difficult to pin point which factors may be driving the die-off. On the bright side, we are confident that we have a lead on the causes and we are working hard in the field and laboratory to fully understand what is going on in The Marls.

By Ryann Rossi|August 26th, 2015|Disease, fungus, Insects, Mangroves and Creeks, The Marls
All pics below taken while fishing on the Marls except Melinda’s shark (I’ve never got a good one)
Hawksbill Turtle, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)Bonefish Abaco Marls 4Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyOsprey - Abaco Marls 1 Reddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco MarlsRoyal Tern, Abaco, Bahamas (Marls) 3Willet, The Marls, AbacoSouthern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has also included an article on die-back by Ryann in its latest Newsletter:

Mangrove Die Off on Abaco by Ryann Rossi, NCSU

This summer Stephanie Archer and I continued research efforts focused on determining the cause of the mangrove die-off in The Marls (work funded by the National Science Foundation). Our efforts were predominantly focused on the fungal pathogen we found associated with the die-off site. We created a small citizen science and outreach project to document the presence or absence of the pathogen across Abaco. This project consisted of short surveys and leaf collections. In total, 92 areas were surveyed including locations from Abaco and San Salvador. We also took this outreach project to the annual Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) teacher training conference.  There we disseminated survey packets to teachers from islands throughout The Bahamas who will help us collect more data on the presence (or absence) of this pathogen on other Islands.

3 men on a skiff, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen : Rolling Harbour)

Three men on a skiff – Abaco Marls

On Abaco, we constructed an experiment to investigate the role of grazing and the presence of fungal lesions on Red mangroves. We simulated grazing using crafting scissors to cut small sections on 600 leaves in 4 different mangrove creeks. We observed the leaves for 28 days to determine if cutting leaves predisposed leaves to fungal infection. At these sites we also trapped for insects to gain an idea of what kind of grazers may be chewing on the leaves. We also did a series of disease incidence surveys that will be routinely monitored for disease progress over the next 2 years. These surveys will allow us to systematically track the progress of the disease. In addition to our field work, we spent many hours in the laboratory isolating fungi from leaves to grow in culture. These cultures were brought back to North Carolina State University and will be sequenced in order to help us identify the fungal pathogen responsible for making the lesions on the mangrove leaves.

Mangroves, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Source material Ryann Rossi; Abaco Scientist; all photos © Keith Salvesen @ Rolling Harbour except those by Ryann / ABSCI in the main article and Melinda Riger’s cool shark


Winslow Homer G W Original Brooklyn


Following on from my post last month HOLE-IN-THE WALL: THE PAST, it’s time to take a closer look at the ‘Gap-in-the-Wall’ as it is today, viewed from the sea. I’ve called this a ‘unique perspective’, but I’m sure many people have taken photos of HITW from the sea. It just that apart from a few kayaking ones from before the collapse of the arch, I haven’t found them. So I took some, thanks to the BMMRO and their research RHIB. 

Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 01 Location photo map

The view above is taken from some way to the west of HITW, and I have marked the main features that will be shown in this post. As one approaches the promontory, the lighthouse and its outbuildings are the only sign of human intervention to be seen in the landscape. Historically there were small settlements in this remote place, and some traces of these remain.

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (sea view)

Closing in on the former ‘Hole’, fresh damage from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of the arch is still visible. It is more conspicuous on the other side.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 03 Collapsed arch (Hurricane Sandy)

In this photo, you can follow the features from the lighthouse to the foreshortened promontory, the new gap, the small islet that now exists, and finally a small eroded outcrop of rock – the remains of an extension of the mainland, and probably evidencing the southern tip of another arch that collapsed centuries ago.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 04 Light, hole and outcrop

Passing the outcrop and round to the east side of the promontory, further evidence of fresh damage can be seen, with the main shear being on the north side of the arch.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 05 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 09Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 07Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 10

There’s a fine view of the lighthouse from the east Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 11

As we started the return journey to Sandy Point via groups of whales and dolphins, we went close to the outcrop, land’s end (next stop, Nassau). Even on a calm day, it is still thrashed by waves, as the second photo shows: no wonder it has eroded so quickly…  See how it looked in the 1803 aquatint below, from which one can see how there must have once been an even larger ‘hole in the wall’ way back in history and long since collapsed even by then. Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 12 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 13Hole in the Wall Print 1803

Then it was time to move on, having been fortunate enough to see the location from an entirely new angleHole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 14Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 15


The geological future of the Hole-in the-Wall landscape is presumably that erosion and rising sea levels will sink the outcrop below the waves; the islet left after the collapse of the arch will similarly erode over the centuries, as in time will the whole promontory. Maybe as it gets thinner, another hole will be worn through by the waves. The restoration of the lighthouse, long promised, may perhaps take place. The nautical importance of the area suggests that the historic need for a light as both landmark and warning will continue. And who knows: even now, plans for wholesale redevelopment of the area could be on a drawing board somewhere…

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Notice) hitw9


The header image is the well-known watercolour by Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910), the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum. It was painted in 1885 and is entitled ‘Glass Windows’. This is commonly claimed to be the famous ‘Glass Window’ feature on Eleuthera. However my own theory is that it in fact depicts Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco. There are a number of good reasons for this, but the most immediately striking is the title Homer himself gave to an engraving of the identical view, published in The Century magazine (Feb 1887). This engraving pre-dates, and was clearly the template for, the watercolour. The rock structure and even the cloud formations are identical. And the title “On Abaco Island” seems conclusive of the location.

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

Credits: All photos, RH; Winslow Homer painting, Brooklyn Museum online archive


Map of Abaco (part) - van Keulen 1728


I’ve posted several times about the desolate, unpopulated area on the southern tip of Abaco known as Hole-in-the-Wall. It’s a place of history and mystery – indeed arguably the most historically, geographically and nautically important location on the entire island. The material in this post has to an extent been combined from earlier posts a couple of years back, since when a great many more people have been showing an interest in the wildlife and history of Abaco (thanks!) and may be new to the history and significance of HITW…

Although Abaco is identifiably – though not geographically reliably – mapped from as early as 1550 (only 58 years post-Columbus), the earliest map of Abaco showing any actual named place is the van Keulen map of 1728 in the header picture. The importance of HITW (‘Hole Rok’ marked on the east side) is clear. Indeed it is the only settlement shown. Thereafter, the place is mapped variously as Hole-in-the-Rock, Trou dans la Roche and Hole-in-the-Wall, before finally settling on the last name. HITW was clearly a significant nautical landmark from at least the c16. You can read more on this topic at HITW – A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS

Incidentally, note the early spellings including of the word ‘Cay’ as ‘Kee’ in the bottom right corner – doubtless an explanation for the pronunciation today, when one might otherwise rhyme the word with ‘Bay’.


The print above, dated 1803, is the earliest depiction of HITW that I have traced. For now, note the familiar ‘Hole’ between the two ships; and the outcrop to the right showing that another, larger ‘Hole’ had, by the early c19, collapsed. Remains of the outcrop, now badly eroded, can still be seen. Read more about pictures of HITW in SHIPS, MAPS & HITW , or in HOLE TO GAP, including a more recent print by Winslow Homer (below) which I contend is the proof that his famous painting ‘Glass Window’ in the Brooklyn Museum is of Abaco and not (as claimed elsewhere) the famous Glass Window on Eleuthera. Of which more another time…

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

The sad fact is that although the name lives on and probably always will, in October 2012 Hurricane Sandy smashed the Hole in the Wall to smithereens, leaving what one can best describe as GAP IN THE WALL.

Here is the position of the Hole, shown before Sandy struck. Note the outcrop at the tip (bottom right corner), as seen in the old print above hole-in-the-wall-rock-abaco-location

One of very few photos taken from the sea that I have come across. There’ll be more, and much closer, in the next post Hole-in-the-Wall distance shot

The view from the lighthouse down to the ‘Land’s End’ promontory (RH)Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

An aerial view of ‘Land’s End’ (with thanks to marinas.com for free use permission)Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse, Abaco annotated

The Hole, very shortly before Hurricane Sandy blasted away the bridge – the perfect place for a picnic…Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco ©Jessica Arrington

Or, as the storm approaches, maybe not…. Jack Bowers took this wonderful (and dangerous to acquire) sea-level shot – possibly the last photo ever of the intact arch427937_4820129308023_1041770732_n

Photos of the ‘Ex-Hole Now Gap’ taken within a very few days of the storm. Note the pale fresh stone HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 1 Luc LavalleeHOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 2 Luc LavalleeHOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 3 Tara Lavallee

This post covers the history of Hole-in-the-Wall over the last 400 years or so, with links to earlier posts from a couple of years back. Then there’s a bit of a gap, I’m afraid, back to the LATE PLEISTOCENE EPOCH roughly 125,000 years ago when the landmass was formed… 

PART 2 will show how the ‘Hole’, the promontory and the lighthouse now look in 2015 from the ocean. During a recent highly successful whale-watching expedition with Charlotte & Diane from the BMMRO, we took the RHIB close to the point and took a seaward look at it from both sides, the first time I had done so. A few days before we’d been to Hole-in-the-Wall for birdwatching purposes by conventional means – the thirty mile round trip by truck along the track from the ‘Y’ of the Highway (NB no hire cars allowed). You can read an early post about this perilous adventure in TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL LIGHTHOUSE: THE LANTERN ROOMHole-in-the-Wall, Abaco - Lantern Room (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: S. Wright, RH, marinas.com, Jessica Arrington, Jack Bowers, Luc Lavallee, Tara Lavallee, open source images


Click to preview The Abaco Backcountry photo book

Jim Todd has produced an attractive self-published book, available in 3 formats, showcasing some of the outstanding features of the less-frequented areas of Abaco and its waters. It contains many excellent photographs, with interesting notes and observations. There are places and facts in the book that may not be known even to locals! Below are some sample pages. 

Abaco Backcountry Grab 2 Abaco Backcountry Grab 3 Abaco Backcountry Grab 4 Abaco Backcountry Grab 5Abaco Backcountry Grab 7 Abaco Backcountry Grab 6Abaco Backcountry Grab 1

Anyone who loves Abaco, its natural surroundings, its ecology and its wildlife will love this book. If this post has whetted your appetite, here are some further details:

Available exclusively on BLURB (this is the direct link)

“The Abaco Backcountry draws on the author’s extensive exploration of the area to describe a hypothetical traverse of its length in words and pictures. It is not a guidebook but an appreciation of a unique Bahamian marine ecosystem”

56 pp, available softcover ($35), Hardcover, Dustjacket ($38.99) and Hardcover, Image Wrap ($40.99)

STOP PRESS In answer to a UK query, the Blurb price is shown in $$$. When you go to the checkout, the shipping is added e.g. $10.99 to ship the PB version to the UK. You can pay by CC or Paypal. The conversion to sterling (or presumably euros) happens… by magic


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