FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…


Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…

I’ve been neglecting the moray eels. It’s ages since I did a post about them, and it’s time to put that right. Specifically, time to take a look at Spotted Morays Gymnothorax moringa. These eels can grow up to 2 meters, and live mainly in the sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic. They are solitary creatures, most often seen with just their heads protruding from holes and fissures reefs and r0cks. They have interesting dental arrangements (see below) and their bite is one that, all things being equal, is probably best avoided… Here’s what to look for.

ADULT SPOTTED MORAYSSpotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

TOOTHSOME CRITTERS (FANGS FOR THE MEMORY…)Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

WICKLE BABY MORAY. MORAYKIN?BABY Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo credits: all amazing photos courtesy of Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Props to ‘Earl the Eel’ who appears in some of them!

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY


Kildeer, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY

The KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus is a fairly common winter resident plover on Abaco. They can often be found on the Delphi beach, and the lovely beach at Casuarina is another place to spot them. They can easily be distinguished from other plover species, being the only ones with two black frontal bands – see above and below. The lower picture, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not the fabled ‘legless killdeer’, but is simply having a little rest on a nice warm wall.

Killdeer, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The killdeer’s name is a bit of a puzzle, frankly. The Latin term Charadrius vociferus basically means “shouty plover”, but it’s a long way from that to “killdeer”. This is another one of those bird names that are allegedly onomatopoeic – and thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with savage behaviour involving Bambi and his ilk (or elk, even). Supposedly the killdeer call is “Kill…Deer”, in the same way as the bobwhite calls an interrogative “Bob…White?”. 

Killdeer - Harrold & Wilson Ponds, NP (Rick Lowe) copy

Consulting some random authorities reveals divergence of opinion on the issue, with definite bet-hedging between ‘kill-dee’ variations and ‘dee dee dees’. Except for Messrs Flieg & Sanders who opine (rudely) ‘the shrill, loud, monotonous call resembles its name’. Yet while I completely get the ‘Bob…White?’ thing, I’m not so sure with the killdeer. Were I a little killdeer, it’s a name I’d like to have anyway. Respect! But what do these sound like to you?

or this

Guillermo Funes Xeno Canto

or this

Peter Boesman Xeno CantoKIlldeer (Danny Sauvageau)

I’ve mentioned the distinctive double black breast-bands that distinguish the killdeer from its brother plovers. These can be seen at quite a distance, as this shot on the Delphi beach by Mrs RH shows (the tracks are from Smithy’s seaweed-clearing tractor).

Killdeer SS edits

The babies are, like all plover chicks, totes irresistibz munchkinsKilldeer hatchling (NTox)Killdeer FB

And like other plovers, a killdeer will defend its nest and young with a broken wing display to distract predators, lurching pathetically across the sand, moving ever further away from the nest. 

I think we can safely conclude that, while the bird doesn’t quite live up to the cervidae-cidal tendencies suggested by its name, nor even sound particularly as though it is saying “killdeer”, it is a very attractive plover to have around whatever the heck its call may resemble.Killdeer, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Rick Lowe, Danny Sauvageau, Mrs RH, NTox, Very Recent FB & I’ll track down the source if it kills me**, Erik Gauger

** Got it now: The very excellent Mike Bizeau, whose on his wonderful NATUREHASNOBOSS website posts a single daily image. Many are birds, some are landscapes, some are other things that have caught his eye. I get a daily email, and am invariably impressed by the quality of the images…

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP


Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP

The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is a relatively rare winter resident dabbling duck on Abaco. The species has a huge range, being found throughout much of the northern hemisphere. 

DABBLING DUCKS – PINTAILS UPNorthern Pintails (M & F) Up-ending (J M Garg)jpg

The ‘acuta’ in the Latin name refers to the characteristic sharp ‘pin tail’. As so often, the drake is a somewhat flashy specimen while the female is unassuming or, as some sources harshly put it, dull and drab. And while the drake makes a melodious whistle, the female simply quacks or croaks.

FLASHY MALENorthern Pintail, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

DULL & DRAB FEMALE? DEBATABLE!Northern Pintail (f), Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Northern Pintail (f) x 4 (Woody Bracey)

Northern Pintails form flocks and are happy to mix with other species.  Their long necks give the edge over similarly-sized dabbling ducks such as the mallard, enabling them to reach deeper down in the water to feed.

Northern Pintail PM IMG_5342 copy 2

THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Predation of nests and chicks by animals and birds such as birds of prey and (some) gulls
  • Parasites including worms and lice, to which they seem to be susceptible; and avian diseases including bird ‘flu
  • Hunting: they are a good target species being swift and agile in the air (for sport) yet quite large (for success rate). Also, delicious (for dinner).
  • Lead poisoning from shot or angling tackle, research has shown. A major problem with all bottom-feeders, though improved where laws prohibiting lead shot have been introduced
  • Loss of wetland areas to agriculture or due to habitat or climate changes

Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On Abaco, Northern Pintails arrive in the autumn and leave as spring approaches. They are most likely to be found on ponds such as the one at Treasure Cay Golf Course, where I photographed the male; and at Gilpin Point where I spotted the lone female (at a distance). Below are both genders together for comparison (NB not taken on Abaco). 

BREEDING TIME

Mating is aquatic, by the usual anatine method in which the female lowers herself in the water to indicate her agreement to the proposal whereupon the male tries to drown her. Apparently after mating, the male raises his head and whistles – whether as a signal that it’s all over or exaltation or relief has not been researched. Yet. 

Northern Pintails (M & F) J M Garg

 RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAIL

BAHAMA PINTAIL PAGE

Credits: RH x 3, Peter Mantle x 1, Tony Hepburn x 1, Woody Bracey x 1, J M Garg x 2, Birdorable 

        northern-pintail        northern-pintail        northern-pintail

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) (4): BATFISH


Batfish (Brenda Bowling, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 3: BATFISH

That’s ‘Batfish’ (or strictly, Batfishes, for there are some 60 species worldwide), as in one of the weirdest, most alien underwater creatures you may ever encounter. As opposed to ‘Bait Fish’, those little silvery specimens that are so attractive to predator fish higher up the food chain – the ones fishermen might be interested in… And the Batfish has no connection at all with Bruce Wayne of Wayne Manor, Gotham City nor with his sidekick Robin. Batfish (Brenda Bowling, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) I mention this bizarre-looking and -acting creature because two have recently been seen and photographed in Abaco waters and although I’d heard of the batfish and even knew vaguely what one looked like, I was quite unprepared for the real thing. Ellen Sokol is a Captain for Kiskeedee Sailing Charters which during the summer is based in the Abacos and which amongst other things gives youngsters the opportunity to snorkel and to learn about undersea life. Ellen says: “I was snorkelling when I saw this thing on the bottom.  At first, I thought it was a dead bird!  It wasn’t moving at all even when I touched it with my flipper.  Later when I read about this fish I learned that it sits motionless and uses the long nose to attract prey.  I suppose that is exactly what it was doing when I rudely interrupted it! I later researched, and found it to be a spotted batfish”.   Because they had no underwater camera on board, Ellen’s son gently scooped it up in a net so they could take a quick photo of the fish before returning it. Quick thinking! Batfish, Abaco 1 (Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing)Batfish, Abaco 3 (Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing) The other recent sighting was posted with a photo on FB within the last 3 weeks. It must have been by someone with whom I am ‘Friends’ or who I follow, and at the time I thought it remarkable and dragged out the image. Usually I note the source but this time I stupidly failed to do so. I’ve scrolled back through FB but I have several hundred friends, many posting much of the time, so the search was fruitless. I’m therefore posting the excellent pic with a promise to take it down if there is an objection, and in the hope that whoever made the sighting will say ‘hi’ and I can credit him, her or them appropriately… For what it’s worth, I think this one may be a short nosed batfish. STOP PRESS Ellen Sokol has now reminded me of the source of this image – the excellent CRUISE ABACO. So apologies to them for lack of attribution in the first place… Batfish (?Shortnose), Abaco Waters (FB, source unclear)

10 OGCOCEPHALIDAE (BATFISH) FACTS TO TREASURE

  • There are some 60 species of batfishes worldwide
  • They live in warm and temperate seas, including the waters of the Bahamas
  • An adult batfish is 12″ – 14″ in length
  • Their bodies are generally lumpy, with some hard spines
  • Some have a long, upturned snout. Others have bright red ‘lipstick lips’
  • They are rubbish swimmers, and often ‘walk’ on their limb-like pectoral and pelvic fins
  • Most species are deep sea denizens but some (short nose, spotted) inhabit shallower water
  • The fleshy snout above the mouth lures prey close enough to its jaws to eat
  • The batfish is becoming increasingly rare worldwide, and is considered to be endangered
  • Only the word ‘Logcock’ (pileated woodpecker) contains the initial 4 letters of Ogcocephalidae 

 CAN YOU SHOW ME SOME MORE EXAMPLES OF THIS INTRIGUING FISH?

By all means. Here are some images of other batfish species – red-lipped, long nosed, short nosed – each peculiar in its own way. You’ll see their preferred, most unfishlike method for getting around.

13179-004-429B61E0Red_lipped batfish (Barry Peters) Ogcocephalus_parvus Undersearch Research Program (NURP)Long-nosed Batfish Wiki

Shortnose Batfish Divephotoguide.com Eric Reich

Q. PLEASE MAY I SEE A VIDEO OF A BATFISH? A. YES. TWO.

“Heather Ashcraft found this very rare short-nosed bat fish on Eleuthera, Bahamas Sept 17 2013. It is a very strange (almost alien) looking combination of bat, frog, bird, and fish. The pelvic fins are used for walking on the ocean floor… Above the bat face is a horn (or beak)…”

“Taken at Coco Cay, Bahamas, April 29, 2014. At first we had no Idea what we were looking at… one of the weirdest things we had ever seen. Apparently they are rare. Even some of the locals had no idea what we were describing”

Credits: Header image courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Brenda Bowling); Ellen Sokol and Kiskeedee Sailing Charters; Unknown but appreciated FB poster; Wiki, Barry Peters, NURP, Eric Reisch; Youtubers x 2; Petersen, Arkive, and sundry magpie pickings…

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO


Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)07

“THEY CALL ME THE HUNTER…” A GREEN HERON ON ABACO

There are a number of birding hotspots on South Abaco (defined loosely for avian purposes as south from Marsh Harbour). Most are attractive places to be; a few (e.g. the town dump) less so, requiring additional skills to avoid taking your long-awaited ‘life bird’ in a pool of grossness…

Always a good bet, Gilpin Point near Crossing Rocks is definitely worth a visit at almost any time, especially the brackish pond just inland from the shoreline. Bear in mind it is (a) a longish private road (we got a puncture down there once…*) and (b) it is private land. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who bring only enthusiasm and take only pictures. Plus he very kindly changed our wheel! At the end of this post is a rough list of birds I have seen at Gilpin, with one or two that I know have also been seen there (photographic evidence!)

*I realise I should say we got a ‘flat’, but to me that would mean we had obtained an apartment. We are indeed “nations divided by a common language” (Attrib variously to Wilde, Shaw & Churchill)

We found this small Green Heron quite easily. We’d watched it fly onto a stump in the pond near the jetty, then fly closer to the shoreline. By tiptoeing onto the jetty, we could see it perched close to the water, inspecting it with a fierce and predatory eye. Both eyes, in fact. 

Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)01

The hunting technique is deceptively simple. Note the long sharp stabbing beak. Note the large feet and claws for gripping securely Here’s how it is done. As a fish is sighted, so the heron leans forward, beak closer to the water, more streamlined to look at.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)02

As the prey unwittingly approaches the bird slowly tilts further forward unless its beak almost touches the water, the quicker to strike…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)03 Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)04

The actual strike is so rapid that it is barely possible to see with the naked eye, let alone to photograph it clearly. For me and my little Pentax, anyway. But the end result is rarely in doubt, with a small fish struggling but securely held. It will be down the heron’s gullet in a matter of seconds.Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)05

I left the heron as it settled slowly back into ‘scanning the water mode’ while I went to look at some Lesser Yellowlegs nearbyGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)06

I returned a few minutes later. Scanning was still in progress, and the bird started the gradual ‘leaning forward’ process as it sighted a fishGreen Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)08

Get ready to spearfish…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)10

Epic success for the heron, epic fail for the photographer…Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)09

“Ha ha Mr Human with your funny black clicky thing hanging round the thing that attaches your head to your body. I was too quick for you. Who hasn’t got the hang of shutter speed yet? Eh? I win the fish. I win the game…”Green Heron, Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

ROUGH GILPIN CHECKLIST

Species we have found on and around the pond include Black-necked Stilts, Little Blue Heron, Great Blue Heron, Tri-colored Heron, Snowy Egret, Reddish Egret, Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Sora, hordes of White-cheeked Pintails, Northern Pintails, Lesser Yellowlegs, Belted Kingfisher, Turkey Vulture, Smooth-billed Ani, American Kestrel, Bahama Woodstar, Cuban Emerald, Mucovy Duck (pets!)  and – for the first time this year – Green heron. As a bonus, Gilpin has become a regular stop for flocks of Abaco Parrots. Other species found there include American Flamingo, Brown Pelican, DC Cormorants and Limpkin. I’ve no doubt there are shorebirds on the beach such as Wilson’s Plovers, various gulls to be identified, and passing tropicbirds & magnificent frigatebirds high over the water.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

‘The Hunter’ is a well-known Albert King / Stax song from 1967 with elements reminiscent of many blues songs and lyrics before that. The best known versions are probably the one by Free (‘Tons of Sobs’ 1968), which is un-improvable and definitive; and the doff of the cap by Led Zeppelin towards the end of ‘How Many More Times’… However ‘Pacific Gas and Electric’ made a pretty good stab at the song, also in the late ’60s

RELATED POSTS  

SHARP-EYED SHARP BILLED

A FACEFUL OF FISH

All photos RH; Music ‘borrowed’  from a CD into iTunes, converted to MP3 and ‘re-borrowed’ for present non-commercial purposes. And it did say “FREE” on it in large letters…

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO


DSC00298_3

CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL: NASSAU BIRDERS VISIT ABACO

THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN organisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.

As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guide BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS (click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.

Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…

Western Spindalis Spindalis zena                   Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis  DSC00210_2 DSC00216_2

Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata                   Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachiiDSC00298_3 DSC00317_2

Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens                         Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolorDSC00356_3 DSC00381_3

                                                        Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia                                                                DSC00371_2 DSC00378_2

Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis              Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis  DSC00399_3 DSC00413_2

Olive-capped Warbler Dendroica pityophila            Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatusDSC00422_2 DSC00501_3

                              West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris                                             DSC00475_2  DSC00278_3

                                                      Canada Goose Branta canadensis                                                                             DSC00566 DSC00642_2

White-cheeked Pintails Anas bahamensis                   Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea     DSC00612_2 DSC00627_3

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata                                   European Starling Sturnus vulgaris        DSC00639_2  DSC00524_2

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor                    La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae lucaysiensisDSC00675_2 DSC00694_2_2

Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea DSC00721_2 DSC09484_2

The gallery above includes a number of specialist birds and others of particular interest. In brief:

  • 3 of the 4 ENDEMIC SPECIES found on Abaco (omitting only the Bahama Woodstar)
  • The famous, incomparable and indeed unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT
  • 4 ‘local’ subspecies of birds also found beyond the Bahamas
  • 1 of only 5 resident warblers, the Olive-capped (of 37 recorded for Abaco)
  • The most recent addition to the birds recorded for Abaco PEARLY-EYED THRASHER
  • The WEST-INDIAN WOODPECKER, now found only on Abaco and (rarely) San Salvador
  • 2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
  • The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written**  The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.

American & 'Caribbean' Coot (Tony Hepburn)

The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National ParkDSC00349

The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to AbacoDSC00706_3

 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Flyer

CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)

** Keith Salvesen, The Birds of Abaco p22

“STRIKE THE POSE”: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO


Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

“STRIKE THE POSE”: BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERS ON ABACO

I’ve featured these little birds before, including a few I took a couple of months back. For reasons to do with a current project I have been revisiting some of my archive folders of Abaco birds. Most are carefully and correctly labelled, which in most cases is easy – ‘Abaco Parrots'; ‘W Spindalis'; B/quits’ etc. Some have more fancy shortcut names that I’m just getting into – ‘PIPL'; ‘BAWA'; ‘WESA’ and so on. And some are crammed into generic folders like ‘Shorebirds Misc’, ‘Gulls Terns Whatever’ or ‘Warblers???’ pending further attention (if ever).

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

The BGGs I have previously shown have all been photographed on South Abaco. Several of the photos here were taken in and around the Treasure Cay area by Becky Marvil, one of the photographic contributors to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. It’s good to remember that although South Abaco provides the best birding, there are other parts of the island, and some Cays such as Man-o-War, where the birding is also very good.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Treasure Cay Abaco (Becky Marvil)

BGGs are well-known for their irreziztbz little ways – coming to check you out if you pish, click or whistle softly in thick coppice; posing daintily for the camera; and maybe even preceding or following you down a track in a companionable way. They may be small, but they always a welcome sight and they make for a very attractive bird gallery.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) aBlue-gray Gnatcatcher preening, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) bBlue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley) c

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Becky Marvil (1,2,3,4,5), Tom Sheley (6,7,8), Charlie Skinner (9,10), Bruce Hallett (11)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)