Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco 6


I have posted about several of the wonderful butterfly species the live on Abaco, but my favourite will always be the small but beautiful Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala. Its ‘look-at-me’ bright orange abdomen, black wings and the curious luminescent bright blue spots that even cover its legs and head are unmistakeable. These butterflies favour the coontie plant – especially for egg-laying – but they can be seen almost anywhere as far as I can see, though I have never seen one right by a beach. 

I’ve posted before about the lifecycle of the Atala, but I have never had a chance to show the complete post-egg process from caterpillar to triumphantly emergent butterfly actually recorded on Abaco until now. Thanks to Rhonda Pearce, her patience and her skill with a camera, the following sequence of photos shows in detail the various stages of metamorphosis.


  • The little hairs on the caterpillars (larvae)
  • The dark gluey-looking shed skins
  • The delicate silky threads as the chrysalis forms
  • The butterfly emerges upside down, enabling it to uncrumple & spread its wings to dry


10173638_10152536424683720_8837746952198646203_n10703931_10152539084318720_4254043938657181472_n      10530805_10152539181538720_7306525148033947757_n1800474_10152539184718720_2160773318941097404_n1904051_10152539181463720_3683578272660806029_n10410511_10152536410758720_8834582183802288185_n



ATALA HAIRSTREAK LIFECYCLE (you’ll find more info about the process here)



ABACO BUTTERFLY PAGE (other species found on Abaco)

Photo Credits: All Rhonda Pearce except the header of a full adult imago, RH

PS Sorry, I’ve been very po-faced and not mentioned Halloween. Everyone else is covered in blood, guts and gore, so I reckon the market is saturated. Also I get the wrong end of the ‘Trick or Treat’ stick. I carefully prepare 2 lots of choccy-based sweets. One is delicious. The other contains chilli. If the callers are nice, they get the Treat. If not, they get the Trick. That must be right, surely. I can listen to them hawking and barfing as they run off into the night…. [No children were hurt in the making of this story…]


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 4


So much to post about – what to choose? Well, the fall migration is still in full swing, with warblers hurtling across land and sea to Abaco in large numbers for their overwintering. Palm warblers are currently arriving. However I’m going to stick with shorebirds for now, and one of the rarer winter visitors, the Piping Plover. I have some more great photos from Danny Sauvageau in Florida, who tirelessly patrols the plover resting areas to record the banded ones so that their origin can be determined. This research assists with vital habitat conservation programs at each end of the migration. There are only 8000 of these little birds left in the world and without protection there’ll be none before you can say “oh dear, very pretty, they’re gone, what a pity…”

PIPING PLOVERS IN THE EARLY MORNING SUNPiping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 6Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 5Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3


The postions, colours and numbering of the rings and tags on these plovers identify individual birds, the location of their summer breeding grounds and so on. Dispersal and migration patterns of each bird can be recorded and specific facts – age for example – can be monitored.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 2

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 7Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 8Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 9Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 1


On the very day I was about to press the ‘publish’ button on this post, look what just flew in from Danny’s beach in Fl.! This is an outstanding photo of a PIPL in flight – you can even see its shadow on the sand. I have a few shots of these birds flying in groups over the sea but apart from a general impression of PIPL-ness, they could really be any small shorebirds travelling fast on the wing. This one is special. Piping Plover in flight (Fl., Danny Sauvageau)


Piping plovers have already arrived on Abaco. Casuarina beach is a promising place to look. Rhonda Pearce sent me this nice photo taken on the point (see my map). This pretty bird looks as though it has a black tag. However Todd Pover of CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY who also monitors the Abaco end of the migration thinks it may just be a piece of wrack – black tags are not usually used.

If anyone sees a piping plover and has a camera handy, I’d be very pleased to receive any photos, especially showing rings if possible – or indeed ringless legs, which is also informative to the monitors. If it turns out to be a Wilson’s Plover, no matter: they are fine birds in their own right!

PIPL Casuarina Oct 14 Rhonda Pearce via RHCasuarina Map jpg

Finally a quick reminder about Danny’s Kickstarter project “Saving Endangered Piping Plovers through Photography” and his presentation explaining how his photography in PIPL resting areas during their migrations can help to map and complete the picture of this vulnerable species to enable their protection.

You can reach Danny’s film by clicking the link DANNY’S FILM and you will see some fabulous footage of these little birds scuttling around on the beach, looking enchanting; and the commentary will explain the importance of the the birds and the research into their conservation.




And finally – what are the good people of Massachusetts doing to help? (great plover skitterings on the shoreline here!)

Credits: All photos, Danny Sauvageau except the last, Rhonda Pearce

Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta          Piping-Plover Artmagenta        Piping-Plover Artmagenta


Lettuce Sea Slug ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy


The ‘WTF’ series so far has covered Bahamas reef fish on the bizarre end of the unusual-to-completely-weird appearance spectrum. And it has stood, of course, for ‘What’s That Fish?’. Today, it doesn’t. The feature creature isn’t a fish at all; it looks like a plant; it is in fact a SACOGLOSSAN - specifically the Lettuce Sea Slug Elysia crispata

The head end is on the left…Lettuce Sea Slug ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

The name ‘sacoglossan’ literally means ‘sap-sucker’ (the sapsucker bird has a different latin name, however). And the slug’s frilly edges supposedly resemble certain types of curly lettuce. I’ve no idea where the ‘crispata’ comes from, but I am sure it doesn’t relate to crisp lettuce. These are creatures of shallow, clear waters such as the sub-tropical reefs of the Bahamas.

Lettuce_Sea_Slug_LASZLO ILYES


This isn’t a technical forum and too much science hurts my head. This species primarily lives off algae. However I give you the word KLEPTOPLASTY to drop into your conversation. In a sentence, algae is eaten but only partially digested; certain elements are stored to produce photosynthesis by which light is converted to energy and the slug can live without food. But baffle your neighbour at dinner, why not, by summarising the process as “chloroplast symbiosis”. Meanwhile, I’m fetching a beer.

Lettuce Sea Slug ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

My research suggests that very little is known about the mating behaviour of these slugs. The pair shown below may be exploring the possibilities, or at least trying to work out which end is which. One is easy to tell, but the other? Time to make our excuses and leave…

Elysia_crispata_(Lettuce_Sea_Slug_pair) Nick Hobgood


This rather beautiful video from ‘CORAL MORPHOLOGIC’ will reveal all. You’ll soon see that progress is very slow. I recommend watching the first 30 seconds and you’ll get the idea. If you choose to persist, you will see the slug sort of turn a corner to the left.

Credits: Melinda @ Grand Bahama Scuba, Laszlo Ilyes, Nick Hobgood, Coral Morphologic, Wiki


Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 2


The occasion: a trip to Sandy Point for a lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s in honour of  Sandy Walker at the end of his 5 years as manager of the Delphi Club. A pair of brown pelicans on the nearby dock were clumsily flying around, diving, perching, drying their feathers, then repeating the cycle. In a quiet moment I slipped away to watch them – and a Great Blue Heron landed quite close by me. So as well as taking photos of the pelicans, I pointed the camera at the heron from time to time. My favourite view is of it standing proudly on the edge of the dock, with the truly azure sea behind it (header and final image).

Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 6



I don’t have a fancy camera. I would never get the settings right before the bird had flown. Or died, even. So I had been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ45 kindly given to me by Mrs RH in a benign moment, possibly Christmas. Then I made a classic error of upgrading to an FZ72 with an alleged massive 60X zoom. Brilliant, I thought. Big mistake. My old camera has a Leica lens. Used with care and a lens extension (zeugma score!), it is / I am occasionally capable of taking pin-sharp photos. The upgrade camera’s lens turned out not to be a Leica. Almost all the shots I took were ‘soft’, the more so using the zoom. A soft photo taken with a less good lens, zoomed 60X, will never be a better photo. Just an even softer one. I wish I’d had Old Faithful with me instead. When we got home, I immediately dug out OF and sold 60X disappointment. OF is now reinstated as my BF.  

The shots of this heron mostly turned out fairly well, largely because it stayed quite close to me. It flew off a couple of times, then returned to the edge of the dock. Here are a few close-up views of the heron selected from the various pics I took, showing some of the details of this fine bird. Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 3 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 4 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 5Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 7Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 10 Then I remembered why I was meant to be at Sandy Point, and went back to Nancy’s for conch fritters and a Kalik or two well OK make that three… Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 11


Otis Redding recorded ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’, arguably his greatest moment, in 1967 a matter of days before he died in a plane crash. The record became the first ever posthumous US Chart #1 (#3 in UK). I’ve dug out a video compo by the excellent Rhino outfit that disinters or at least recycles gems from our musical heritage. It’s not just the voice of Otis Redding that makes this song so poignant and so good – Steve Cropper’s guitar is outstanding too.

Guitarists out there – you want a ‘Chase Chart’, don’t you?


A rare photo of Sandy (centre back row, sunnies on cap) smilingSandy at Sandy Point

Photo Credits: RH, er… that it…




The White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica  is an easily recognised dove species, being the only one on Abaco with conspicuous white wing markings. The prominent blue eye-rings are another unusual feature of this bird. The blue is skin and not feather colouring. Another identifier is the dark line on the upper neck.

Although the birds are permanent residents on Abaco, they are relatively uncommon. They are not a protected species, and yet unlike some other pigeon and dove species (Mourning Dove, Ring Necked Dove, White-crowned Pigeon, Zenaida Dove) they are not listed among the game birds that have a shooting season. Unlike many species whose range is decreasing for all the usual human-related reasons, this bird appears to be expanding its range – or is possibly being introduced in new areas. Urban development seems not to be not such a deterrent as for other birds, and feeders are also thought to contribute to the spread.

White-winged Dove Range - Xeno Canto

White-winged Dove, Abaco Bahamas - Tom Sheley crop - Version 2

This short audio clip of a White-winged Dove has other background bird sounds, mostly identifiably a red-winged blackbird making its ‘rusty gate hinge’ call

Mike Nelson / Xeno Canto

White-winged Dove, Abaco - Tony Hepburn


STEVIE NICKS name-checks the White-winged Dove and its call in her 1981 hit “Edge of Seventeen” from her Bella Donna album. If your interest is piqued as the Mac again discuss putting behind them their various differences and prodigious substance sampling to re-form (Glastonbury 2015?), see below. However, rehearing this again (having hidden Bella Donna in a locked drawer 30 years ago) the music has not worn well and her voice – sometimes so exciting – is somewhat fingernails on blackboard. 

This final image is by Dan Pancamo who generously uploaded it to Wiki. It is several cuts above the usual generic illustrative images in both quality and style.


Credits: Wiki / Dan Pancamo, Tom Sheley, Tony Hepburn, Xeno Canto


Northern Parula,  Abaco Craig Nash


The NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana is a stumpy little migratory warbler with white arcs above and below the eyes, and with a slate-coloured back distinctively smudged with an olive patch in both sexes. These birds are winter residents on Abaco, and are common throughout the island and cays. They are arriving right now, including juveniles making their first trip to Abaco. Wonder what they’ll make of it?

Northern Parula, Abaco - Bruce Hallett (adult male)

Range Map: Summer (Yellow) & Winter (Blue)220px-Parula_americana_map.svg

Parulas are primarily insect eaters, with a preference for caterpillars and spiders. They sometimes dart from a perch to snatch insect prey in mid-air. In winter they vary their diet with berries and fruit. You are most likely to see one foraging busily in bushes and low trees – maybe coming up for air by poking its head above the foliage…

Northern Parula, Abaco (Craig Nash)


WHAT THE HECK IS  A “PARULA”? Originally, Linnaeus classified this little bird at a Tit, or Parus. For some reason, “as taxonomy developed the genus name was modified first to Parulus and then the current form” (Wiki Hat-tip). But although none of the other 37 Abaco warbler species is a Parus, Parulus or Parula, they all come under the family name Parulidae. The august institutions that deal with these things have classified the Parula as a ‘Setophaga’, along with many other warblers.

This photo shows the distinctive upper chest band of the adult bird very clearlyBAHAMAS - Northern Parula Warbler, Abaco -  Becky Marvil

The CORNELL LAB list of adult Parula identifiers is shown below, with adult females being similar ‘but with greener backs’. These specifics are pretty much borne out by the birds shown here (except for the last bird, an immature female just beginning to develop the Parula characteristics). The next photo by Woody Bracey, is a perfect example of what to look out for. 

  • Small songbird.
  • Blue-gray hood and wings.
  • Yellow chest with black and reddish band across it.
  • White crescents above and below eyes.
  • Green back.
  • Two white wingbars.

Northern Parula, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Parulas produce different sounds to listen out for – a ‘chip’ call that could be any number of birds (IMO); a song; and a trill. Here are examples of each from the essential bird call site Xeno Canto.

CHIP CALL Paul Marvin / Xeno Canto

SONG Paul Marvin / Xeno Canto

TRILL Jelmer Poelstra / Xeno Canto

ABACO BAHAMAS - Northern Parula 2, 1-22-12, Nursery copy 2

This is an immature female parula, a ‘first fall’ bird, and therefore on its first visit to AbacoNorthern Parula, Abaco - Bruce Hallett (imm. - 1st fall female)

I’ll end with an excellent 2:18 mins-worth of Parula-based video from Wild Bird Video Productions





CREDITS: Photos – Craig Nash, Bruce Hallett, Becky Marvil, Gerlinde Taurer; Audio – Xeno Canto; Video -Wild Bird Video Productions; Cornell Lab; a smidge of Wiki


Scaleless Black Dragonfish - Header - BMMRO Abaco


Prepared to be terrified. Beneath the placid turquoise waters of Abaco lurks a ruthless and implacable killer of hideous mien, armed with vicious teeth  … Yes, as the music from Jaws begins to throb round your temples I bring you… THE SCALELESS BLACK DRAGONFISH, aka the Deep Sea Dragonfish or Viperfish (of which it is one type). Oh, and it’s about 8 inches/ 20 cms long.

The specimen shown here was found off Rocky Point, Abaco during a whale and dolphin research trip by the BMMRO. This is an area where typical low waters give way to the far deeper waters of an arm of the Great Bahama Canyon. It is an excellent place for whale watching, since one effect of the canyon is to provide plentiful food of the sort that cetaceans thrive on. The chances of you ever meeting a dragonfish are very slim indeed, since they live at depths up to 1500 metres. 

MAP to be added after posting, to avoid FB’s deranged random ‘feature photo’ selection The black star at the south end of Abaco  (in the yellowish box) is where Rocky Point and Sandy Point are to be found.


Here is an account by BMMRO intern Luanettee Colebrooke who was lucky enough to be on the research vessel when this strange, vicious-looking creature was found. I have edited the material for present purposes, but I recommend reading the whole article which can be found on the BMMRO website HERE. You will get an excellent overview of a day’s research under the hot sun, and plenty about the collection of whale poop (a topic I have previously dwelt on HERE (“Familiar Feces“).

Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO Abaco
CREATURE by Luanettee’ Colebrooke, BMMRO intern, summer 2014
The crossing of this organism was by complete accident. It was something that none of us would have imagined finding floating along the surface of the water. For Dr Claridge, Jurique (another BMMRO summer intern from Cat Island) and I as Bahamians, who knew this creature even existed in our majestic waters? Who knew our waters were even that deep to hide this specimen? (I think Dr Claridge knew)
Our morning began as per the usual routine for a boat day. There are several research sites that we venture to regularly: Rocky Point for the coastal Bottlenose Dolphins, and an area about 2 miles south of Rocky Point for our very elusive and wary Blainville’s beaked whales, and the deep blue (a massive drop into waters that are 1500 metres deep) to listen for Sperm Whales.It is not that I do not believe that we have deep waters. The Tongue of the Ocean runs through the northern part of our country. My thought comes more from, ‘our waters are that deep’? To a point where light does not hit the bottom and organisms have to rely mainly on bioluminescence? It is a similar thought process I had when I saw a sperm whale for the first time. They are not small creatures of the sea. It is both an awe and scary thought that there are creatures out there we, as Bahamians, do not know exist in our waters.
Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO AbacoScaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO Abaco
“Our final activity of the day was tracking a sperm whale acoustically using a hydrophone…” There follows a graphic account of the technicalities of sperm whale poop collection and co-intern Jack’s “Faecal Dispersion Technique”. Then this: Jack stood up, Pringle in mouth and pointed to a black leather looking strap off of the port bow. “What is it?” Moving closer to the port, Jurique and I had our own thoughts. “It looks like a boxing glove strap,” he suggested. “More like an expensive underwater watch,” I mentioned. Dr. Claridge said, “It looks like a squid tentacle.” Jack added in, “More like the strap from a fin to me.” Our heads were turning with no closer answer. Taking it upon himself as the official sample collector, Jack popped back into the water to collect it. There were no sample pots large enough for it, so he had to use a large Ziplock bag to pick it up.
Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO AbacoLetting out a surprised chorus when he got back on the boat, we wondered what the heck it was. It had a mouth and a weird white patch that at first, I thought was its eye. The ventral abdominal section seemed swollen as if it had expanded from the decreasing pressure rising from the sea. As we looked at it and took photos, we determined several characteristics of the deceased specimen without having to autopsy it. The first was that it had three rows of needle like teeth that turned inward. There was what we assumed to be an angler under its ‘chin’ that had a murky transparent color. Another deduction we came to was the white dots that ran along the body all the way to its tail could be bioluminescent in nature like an angler. The pectoral fins were small and thin like a tooth pick. The final detail we took note of was the silver patch underneath its eyes.It was a type of angler fish we hypothesized. And it somehow ended up on the surface. There were several questions we voiced to each other: if it is a deep angler fish, how did it end up here? Where did it come from? Was it stunned by the sperm whale’s echolocation and pulled upwards as it surfaced? Later that night as we went through our faecal samples, photo IDs and data entry, the search began for what exactly this organism was. Jack did some image trickery and overlapped the photos with an alien from Alien. Scaleless Black Dragonfish c/w Alien - BMMRO AbacoI personally thought it looked more like Venom from Spiderman. As he did that, I took it upon myself to begin the search by looking up the most prominent feature: the angler on the anterior ventral side of the fish. By using this characteristic, I was able to narrow the organism down to a Scaleless Black Dragonfish by using several online scientific key identification guides and forums. The species we are still unsure about. The mystery continues…Scaleless Black Dragonfish - BMMRO Abaco
This creature is one of a number of dragonfish species found worldwide. This one might to be one of the genus Melanostomias (says he, hesitantly…). Like many deep sea creatures, its customary depths are pitch black, or nearly so; and so it is equipped with its own light source (bioluminescence), including the item dangling down from its lower jaw, called a barbel. The fish’s glow and no doubt the gleam of the barbel swaying around in the water act as a lure to attract prey that swim up to investigate and then.. snap! Those teeth start to do their work.
Scaleless black dragonfish (Melanostomias biseriatus) (imagesource.com)
I’ll end with an amazing short (2:28) video posted in early 2014 by ‘Indoona’. The accompanying description is the most authoritative account of the species and its little ways that I have  come across, complete with useful links. I include it before the video, noting only that the creature featured is a Pacific one from off the coast of California, and therefore not identical to the Abaco one.
                                                                       scaleless-black-dragonfish-mini-jpg          scaleless-black-dragonfish-mini-jpg          scaleless-black-dragonfish-mini-jpg

THE DEEP SEA DRAGONFISH OR VIPER FISH is an awesome looking creature from the middle depths of the ocean (this one comes from 600 metres or about 1000 feet deep). Also called the scaleless dragonfish, they are ferocious predators, with extremely large teeth compared to their body size. And they have one of nature’s most amazing tricks to give them the edge over their prey (more below).

There are several different species of dragonfish (one estimate is 67 species – all from the fish family known as Family Stomidae) and they are quite difficult to tell apart but this one is from the pacific depths of California and is likely Tactostoma macropus, the longfin dragonfish. Idiacanthus antrostomus is an Atlantic species that looks very similar – at least I think that’s the case correct me if I’m wrong.

They hunt with a bioluminescent barbel or lure. It is not glowing here but under the different lighting regimes I used – some of the darker images – you can see how much the lure stands out.

Sadly fish like this do not survive long on the surface, mainly because of temperature differences and mechanical damage in the net rather than pressure problems I think. It was caught in a cod-end trawl and filmed in a special tank (a kreisal aquarium). But is great to be able to share another wonder of the oceans on YouTube.

And their amazing trick? Unlike most other deep sea creatures which are sensitive to blue light – the dragonfish also produces a red light beam (see the organ to the rear of the eye) – it is also very sensitive to red light. Although red light does not travel very far underwater it allows them to see when other animals cannot and to sneak up on their prey – especially shrimps that glow in the red light. For more detail see: http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf10… and the work of Ron Douglas and Julian Partridge,http://blog.wellcomecollection.org/ta… (these images were filmed with the help of Julian and Ron). Oh and this dragon is not big – about 20 cm or just under a foot!

Credits: Luanettee Colebrooke, ‘Jack’ & BMMRO (to whom thanks as ever), imagesource.com, Indoona , and 2 sites I came across during my investigations – seasky.org & strangesounds.org

If you can’t get enough of dragonfish, check out this Tumblr site for dozens of images including photos, drawings, cartoons, and enough strange dragonfish-based characters to weird you out utterly… HERE


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