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


Pristis_pectinata _Georgia_Aquarium_ Diliff Wiki

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

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

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

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

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

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

 10 ESSENTIAL SAWFISH FACTS

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

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

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

CONSERVATION ISSUES

POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels. THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal). LEGAL PROTECTION Capturing a sawfish is illegal in certain countries, including the United States. The sale of smalltooth sawfish rostra is prohibited in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.  The import for sale of that of any sawfish species is also prohibited. The international trade of sawfish was banned by the CITES convention in June 2007.

A VERY RECENT BAHAMAS SMALLTOOTH SAWFISH SIGHTING ON BIMINI – JAN 2015

Pristis_pectinata_(smalltooth_sawfish)_(Bimini,_western_Bahamas) Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015 Wiki

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

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

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

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


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

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

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

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

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

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Cherubfish (rare) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

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

Cherubfish Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

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

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

RELATED POSTS

GRAY ANGELFISH 1

GRAY ANGELFISH 2

QUEEN ANGELFISH 1

QUEEN ANGELFISH 2

DAMSELFISH

ROCK BEAUTY

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

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!


House Sparrow, Abaco  - Nina Henry

HUMBLE HOUSE SPARROWS ON ABACO… & EVERYWHERE ELSE!

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

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

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

House Sparrow, Abaco - Peter Mantle

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

House Sparrow (f), Abaco Keith Salvesen

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

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

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

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco -  Bruce Hallett

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco – Bruce Hallett

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD NEST, CHICKS & FLEDGING VIDEO

I tend not to reblog other people’s posts wholesale. For a start, there can be compatibility issues that are tiresome to sort out. Often, they will include material – interesting in its own right – that is applicable to that blog but not to this one… Or it might be inappropriate to add other useful info or images. Sometimes, though, a post is perfect. This is one such time. I have recently started to follow Dominique’s blog WANDER IN NATURE, having come across her post about the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii. The Baha Mocker is on the ‘wants list’ of any birder on Abaco. I have never seen a photo of a nest or chick before, far less seen either in real life. So here they are, not on Abaco but only a mockingbird’s flight away!

Wander in Nature logo

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD TAKES FLIGHT

JUNE 2014 Sometime in the transition between Spring and Summer, I stumbled across a bird’s nest wedged in the top corner of the rose garden.  After a much needed boost, I peered in and discovered the bobbing beaks of three little nestlings, so fragile and still without their feathers.

Bahama Mockingbird Chicks (Wander in Nature)

Over the next few days, I hoped to follow their growth and capture them during feeding time with their two parents that had clearly made their presence known.  One of the young birds appeared to take over the nest for a while, and eventually took flight into the big wide world.

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Adult & Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

Bahama Mockingbird Fledgling (Wander in Nature)

The whole story is here… there’s a great deal of action at this nest!

Here are two recordings of the beautiful song of this bird that I made 18 months ago a short way down a logging track in the pine forest south of Crossing Rocks (before the Y). Note the repetition of particular phrases before the bird moves on to the next sound in its extensive repertoire.

RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD ‘Making a good impression…’

NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD ‘Taking off…’ (Mimicry)

Credits: Header image, Bruce Hallett; all other images and video, Dominique @ Wander in Nature

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER


Black Grouper ed ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba 2

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (22): BLACK GROUPER

The Black Grouper is a large fish of the reefs found in the western Atlantic, particularly in the waters of Florida, Bahamas, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico. It is a solitary species that mostly prefers the shallow waters around coral reefs.

Black Grouper ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

Formerly plentiful, these groupers (like other grouper species) have moved from an IUCN listing of ‘Least Concern’ to ‘Near-Threatened’. They have the twin disadvantages of being fished for sport and fished for food. As demand for grouper on the menu rises, so does its vulnerability. The species is described as a ‘slow breeder’, so a depleting population has less chance of sustaining numbers. 

Black Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

An adult black grouper’s diet consists of small fish and squid. Juveniles feed primarily on crustaceans. However, certain tiny reef fish are important to the species as ‘cleaners’. You can read about their significance by clicking CLEANING STATIONS Here are examples of two black groupers receiving attention at the same cleaning station. Both also seem to be giving a ride to REMORAS.

Grouper at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Note that this fish has an embedded hook and is trailing a line – one that ‘got away’Grouper, Black, at cleaning station (+ hook) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Despite the name, black groupers are not all black. They have many shades from dark to olive-coloured to pale. I believe the two photos below are of a grouper known as Arthur, a favourite with divers and definitely off the menu… Black Grouper  ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaBlack Grouper 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The tiny bright blue fish in the photo above are Blue Chromis, a regular accompaniment on any snorkel or dive on a reef. I like the colourful little Fairy Basslet in the next photoBlack Grouper © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Now that the NASSAU GROUPER has been awarded a closed season to help maintain numbers, it will be interesting to see if the winter fishing ban is extended to the Black Grouper…

Black Grouper (Arthur) ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba

RELATED POSTS

TIGER GROUPER

NASSAU GROUPER

Credits: all photos Virginia Cooper and Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba 

RARE AMERICAN ROBINS ON ABACO: MORE SIGHTINGS


American Robin, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

In 2012 I wrote a post about the comparative rarity of the American Robin on Abaco, which had surprised me. They overwinter in Florida, and they might conceivably range further more often than they do. It turned out that one or two may be reported one year, none the next. I listed a number of sightings and some comments by Woody Bracey, but I lacked any photos of these birds taken on Abaco. I had to make do with wiki and bad ones taken in the US by me (including stuffed ones in the Natural History Museum, NYC – an act of desperation!). You can see the post HERE

Nina Henry, a photographic contributor to BIRDS OF ABACO, had some good fortune last March 2014 when she found these 3 birds during her trip to Abaco. Maybe March is a good time for them – perhaps a few call in as they start to make their way north for the summer. 

AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 1- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 2- Nina Henry AMERICAN ROBIN, Abaco 3- Nina Henry

Many past sightings have been on the Cays rather than the main island.  Here’s a recent photograph taken by Charmaine Albury on Man-o-Way Cay

American Robin Man-o-War Cay Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Meanwhile I have been able to improve slightly on the tiny distant AMRO I posted before, with one taken more recently – still not on Abaco but in NYC. Closer, but definitely no cigar yet…

American Robin, NYC (Rolling Harbour)

 Credits: Bruce Hallett (header), Nina Henry x 3, Charmaine Albury, RH