NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED


Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NASSAU GROUPER: VULNERABLE, ENDANGERED… & NOW PROTECTED

The Nassau grouper Epinephelus striatus is one of a number of Caribbean grouper species found generally in the Northern Bahamas and specifically in Abaco waters. Others include the Black, Tiger, and Yellowfin groupers, the Red Hind,and the Graysby. The Nassau grouper is special, however, not least because (unlike the others) it is on the IUCN Red List as an Endangered Species and is also a US National Marine Fisheries Service Species of Concern. It is considered the most important of the groupers for commercial fishing in the Caribbean, and the IUCN listing data suggests that a population decline of 60% occurred over the last three generations (27-30 years), a startling rate. The current population size is estimated at >10,000 mature individuals.

Nassau Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

The Nassau Grouper is a creature of the coral reefs in the Caribbean and adjacent seas, though it can also be found in deep water. It feeds in the daytime on small fish and small crustaceans such as shrimps, crabs and lobsters. It lurks in caves and recesses in the reef, sucking in the prey that passes unsuspecting by. The coloration of an individual fish may vary considerably with conditions, and it can adapt its colour to its surroundings as camouflage.  

Tiger grouper meets Nassau grouperNassau & Tiger Grouper ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba  copy

Spawning takes place in December and January as the seawater cools, always at full moon, and always in the same place. In the moonlight, huge numbers of the grouper gather together to mate in a mass spawning aggregation. This may continue for several days. However, the species is slow breeder, which is why overfishing is particularly damaging to the population as the depleted stock cannot readily be replaced.

3846_aquaimages Wiki

CONSERVATION ISSUES

There are other besides factors commercial overfishing that make the Nassau grouper so vulnerable, including fishing during the breeding season; taking undersized fish; pollution and reef decline; habitat loss; and invasive species. The spawning areas are especially vulnerable to exploitation. In the Bahamas, as elsewhere,  the government has now instituted a closed fishing season for the Nassau grouper. Here is the BREEF  flyer, just circulated – and in fact the reason for this post, which reminded me that I had planned to write about this fish! 10382222_10152869346685953_7443797899832698038_o

THREATS

The Bahamas National Trust sums up the multiple threats in this uncompromising way:

Nassau grouper is eaten by barracudas, lizard fish, dolphins, sharks and other large predators of the reef community. But the predators that have the biggest impact on the grouper population are humansPeople are fishing groupers before they can grow to maturity and reproduce. Sex change may also cause a problem. In undisturbed areas there are usually equal numbers of male and females. In heavily fished areas there are often three or more times more females than males. This means many eggs will not be fertilized during spawning. Other threats include, habitat destruction, coral breakage from divers, siltation from construction, runoff from logging and agriculture, dredging, sewage, oil spills and other contaminants that harm coral reefs where Nassau Groupers live.

grouperEpinephelus_striatus_2

There’s an extent to which a country can be judged on its attitude to wildlife from the stamps it chooses to issue. It’s something to do with appreciation and promotion of the country’s natural resources. For example, North Korea rates nil in this respect, with stamps involving scary weaponry, flags, marching and eerily glowing leaders – not a single sparrow to be seen.  By fortunate contrast the Bahamas and its Postal Service score very highly in celebrating the diversity of the wildlife of the islands. The Nassau Grouper was first featured on Bahamas stamps as long ago as 1971, some 25 years before the IUCN Red Listing, and probably before the sharp decline in population numbers had even begun.

bahamas-1971-nassau-grouper-sg-363-fine-used-19448-p

In 2012 the Bahamas Postal Service released ‘a new definitive 16 stamp series’ depicting the marine life of The Bahamas. The Nassau has been promoted from 5c in 1971 to 70c in 2012. That’s inflation for you.

bahamas-marine-life-stamps2

Finally in 2013 BREEF’s 20 years of marine conservation was commemorated with a distinguished and colourful set of 8 stamps, noting in their release: ‘Two of the new stamps feature the Nassau Grouper, a now endangered species that has experienced severe population decline throughout the region… BREEF is well known as an advocate for an annual closed season for the iconic Nassau Grouper during its winter breeding period. The push for the closed season was based on scientific evidence of population collapses throughout the region due to overfishing. BREEF is calling on the government to implement a fixed closed season for the Nassau Grouper in order to protect the species and the fishing industry. The closed season traditionally runs during the spawning season from December 1st until February 28th, to allow the fish to reproduce.  BREEF is calling urgently for the announcement of this year’s Nassau Grouper closed season….’ And so it came to pass… Not only is the Nassau grouper now worth 2 x 65c; it is strictly protected for 3 months during its breeding season. Maybe philately even had a hand in getting somewhere…

BREEF_Comemorative_stamps_PastedGraphic-3

Nassau Grouper (Rick Smit wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger, Rick Smit, Open Source, BNT, BREEF, Wikimedia, Bahamas Postal Service

COMMON YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO: CHEERFUL WINTER WARBLERS


Common-yellowthroat, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

COMMON YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO: CHEERFUL WINTER WARBLERS

Abaco is fortunate to be home to the endemic BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata, a striking bird with a dashing black mask and bright yellow body in the male. You can see it with its fellow endemics HERE. But there is similar winter resident species, the COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas, that can be seen on Abaco between October and March. Now is a very good time to look out for them. However, the two species are easy to confuse.

Common Yellowthroat (male)Common Yellowthroat, Gilpin Pond, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Yellowthroat (male)Bahama Yellowthroat (M) BH IMG_0675 copy

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

  • SIZE – the BW is slightly larger and sturdier than the CW
  • BEAK – larger in the BW, and some might say it tends to be decurved
  • COLOUR – the BW is more colourful, with more extensive yellow underparts and mask
  • FEMALES – both species lack the mask and are duller; the female BW has a greyer head
  • HABITAT – both are found in the same areas; the CW prefers denser vegetation near water
  • DEBATEABLE – it seems to me the pale stripe behind the mask is usually less prominent in the BW

Common Yellowthroat male with conspicuous pale head-stripe800px-Common_Yellowthroat_by_Dan_Pancamo

Both yellowthroat species are an endearing mix of shy and inquisitive. These birds are responsive to ‘pishing’, and once lured from cover they may remain nearby on low branches or shrubs watching you with interest as you watch them. Their song – similar in both species – is fairly easily imitated (or at least approximated), which may also bring them into the open – a source of great satisfaction to the amateur birder when it works. Unless it’s just coincidence, of course… The songs of the two species recorded below sound almost indistinguishable (except that the first one is professional and the second notably amateur…).

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT 

Todd Wilson / Xeno Canto

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT

RH own recording

Female Common Yellowthroats are unassuming and quite delicate little birds. The first of these two images shows an immature bird, with its front beginning to become yellow. The second is a mature female.Common Yellowthroat (f, imm) Bruce Hallett IMG_9435Common Yellowthroat (f) Bruce Hallett IMG_4057

Two more male Common Yellowthroats to admire…Common Yellowthroat (m) Bruce Hallett IMG_4232  Common Yellow-throat, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

Photo Credits: Erik Gauger (1); Tom Sheley (2); Bruce Hallett (3, 5, 6, 7); Dan Pancamo /Wiki (4); Becky Marvil (8) Audio: Xeno Canto; RH

A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO: BROWN THRASHER


 Brown Thrasher, Judy Howle / DigiDiva - WunderPhotos

A NEW BIRD SPECIES FOR ABACO: BROWN THRASHER

The third new bird species this year has been found on Abaco by bird authority Woody Bracey.  After the excitement of 6 BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS in June and a FORK-TAILED FLYCATCHER in October comes the very recent sighting (with photos) of a BROWN THRASHER, hitherto unrecorded for Abaco. It was seen near Treasure Cay, at the site of a derelict restaurant.

The Brown Thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) belongs to the same family that includes mockingbirds and the catbird – Mimidae. Its normal range includes Florida where it is resident,  so there’s only 200 miles of ocean to cross to reach Abaco. Easier still with a stop-over on Grand Bahama. However I’ve checked for other Bahamas sightings, and so far I have found one recorded for Grand Bahama, and one for Eleuthera. So this first sighting on Abaco is possibly only the third for the Bahamas, suggesting that the Thrasher is generally not a great adventurer.  

220px-Brown-Thrasher-rangemap

Here are some images in case you happen to see a strange brown speckled bird…Brown Thrasher (Manjith Kainickara wiki)

ADULT AND JUVENILE
Brown Thrasher Toxostoma rufum, Virginia - cbgrfx123 wiki

And here are Woody’s evidential images of his sighting. They may not be such close shots as the others but they are conclusive for the record.P1070843P1070844

BESIDES ONE BIRD VISITING ABACO, WHAT’S  INTERESTING ABOUT THE THRASHER?

  • They are known to have more than 1000 types of song, one of the largest bird repertoires
  • They repeat phrases 2 or 3 times before moving on to another (somewhat like Mockingbirds)

Rick Wigh / Xeno Canto

  • They are omnivorous, eating insects, snails, worms etc; and balancing that with fruit, seeds and nuts
  • They are shy birds, but can be very aggressive when defending territory or a nest site
  • They used their slightly decurved beaks to thrash around under leaves and ground debris as they forage – hence the name

YES INDEED, BUT IS THERE ONE REALLY MEMORABLE FACT ABOUT THEM?

  • OK. Their necks are extremely flexible and they have more vertebrae than camels or (get this!) giraffes.
Brown_Thrasher (Ken Thomas wiki)AUDUBON’S DEPICTION OF A ‘FERRUGINOUS THRUSH’, AS IT WAS THEN KNOWNJohn James Audubon - Ferruginous Thrush

Credits: Judi Howle, Manjith Kainickara, Anon (wiki), Woody Bracey, Ken Thomas; Wunderphoto, Wiki, Xeno Canto

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY


Osprey, Abaco (Jim Todd 2)

“ABACO’S GOT TALONS”: THE OSPREY

The magnificent Osprey Pandion haliaetus is one of the world’s most successful raptors and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.

220px-Pandion_haliaetus_global_range.svg

Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

On Abaco the Osprey is a permanent breeding resident, and while certainly not an ‘every day bird’, the chances of seeing one are reasonable. They are fairly often seen flying over the bay at Delphi, or out on the Marls. A pair recently nested at Sandy Point close to Nancy’s restaurant.

Ospreys, Abaco (Jim Todd)

There are few more exhilarating sights in the world of birds than an osprey swooping from a great height into the sea, emerging with a large fish held characteristically ‘fore and aft’ in its talons, and flying into the distance with heavy wing-beats. This wonderful close-up by wildlife photographer PHIL LANOUE shows an osprey that has actually managed to grab dinner for two…

osprey-flight-with-two-fish-03

This bird looks as if it is poised to dive onto some hapless fishOsprey in flight (Lake Wylie, S Carolina) - Gareth Rasberry

 10 PANDION POINTS TO PONDER

  • Ospreys are also known as sea hawks, fish hawks or fish eagles. They are almost exclusively fish-eating
  • A mature adult’s wingspan may reach 6 feet
  • They are the only members of their taxonomic family, genus and species
  • Ospreys & owls are the only raptors with reversible outer toes to grasp prey firmly
  • They can carry fish weighing more than 4 lbs
  • They dive into water feet first to grab its prey; their nostrils can close up to keep out water
  • Osprey-watch.org is a global site for mapping osprey nest locations / logging nesting observations
  • A New Jersey group has designed the optimum artificial nest platform, now an accepted standard
  • Ospreys usually mate for life
  • Osprey populations in many areas have been affected by pesticides and by egg trophy-hunters

PUTTING THE ‘PREY’ INTO ‘OSPREY’
Osprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

A utility post makes a perfect perch for a bonefish snackOsprey, Abaco (Woody Bracey)  copy

CHECK OUT THE TALON…Osprey (Danny Sauvageau)

The impressive wingspan of an Abaco ospreyOsprey, Abaco (Craig Nash) copy

An osprey far out on the Marls. I managed to get some distance shots of it despite having a fishing rod in my hand…Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 4 Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

Osprey, by John James AudubonOsprey - John James Audubon

The Osprey is a prolific symbol in national, cultural and sporting themes, and has been depicted on Bahamas stamps. And quite right too.

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey copy

Wm Shakespeare Coriolanus

I think he [Coriolanus] will be to Rome
As is the osprey to the fish, who takes it
By sovereignty of nature… 

Credits: Jim Todd (1, 3), Tom Sheley (2), Phil Lanoue (4), Gareth Rasberry / Wiki (5), Danny Sauvageau (6, 8), Woody Bracey (7), Craig Nash (9), RH (Marls pics) – thanks for all image use permissions

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS

The latest version of the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAHAMAS PROPOSAL FOR THE EXPANSION OF THE PROTECTED AREA SYSTEM OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS has been published. It is a joint proposal by the Bahamas Government, The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust. The breadth of the scheme is very ambitious, affecting all the principal Bahama Islands. To understand the objectives and scope of the project, you can see the whole 34-page project by clicking BAHAMAS PROPOSED PROTECTED AREAS 2014 It is in pdf format, so you should be able to save it if you wish to.

Many people will be familiar with the proposals as they affect Abaco. However since the latest version appears to be a final draft, I thought it might be helpful to show the 4 proposed areas of protection and conservation in their present form. These are, in summary:

  1. THE ABACO MARLS NATIONAL RESERVE A vast area of nearly 200,000 acres (300 square miles) of mangrove flats, sandbanks, creeks and wetland habitat
  2. EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK 13,000 acres (20 square miles) of wetland habitat that provides a vital wildlife nursery, and includes blue holes, creeks and a significant area for recreational activities (though Pete’s Pub at Little Harbour may be just outside the zone…)
  3. CROSS HARBOUR PROTECTED AREA 14,000 acres (21 square miles) in South West Abaco, a crucial breeding area for a number of species,including bonefish
  4. SOUTH ABACO BLUE HOLES CONSERVATION AREA  A huge 34,000 acre (53 square miles) swathe of South Abaco to the west of the E D Highway, incorporating 4 inland blue holes and important cave systems, and 13 offshore blue holes. This is an area of mainly pine forest on land and low waters at sea, with an anticipated value for eco-tourism

Here are the BNT maps showing the extent of each area. Far more information will be found via the link to the report given above. 

THE ABACO PROPOSALS

Abaco Preserves 1 copy

Abaco Preserves 2 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 3 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 4 copyjpg

Credits: Parrot, (ex-)parrot protector Caroline Stahala; Maps, BNT; acres to sq m conversion, Gizmo!

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BAHAMAS BIRD BOOK REVIEW


ABACO PARROTS MM 2

“Over the Moon” (Abaco Parrot / Melissa Maura)

“BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS”: NEW BOOK REVIEW

Published 2014 ~ 128pp ~ $20, available from the BNT

A fine new book on the birds of the Bahamas has recently been published by the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST and BIRDSCARIBBEAN. Compiled and edited by well-known Bahamas bird guide CAROLYN WARDLE  with the BNT’s Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore, this slim book is packed with valuable information. It doesn’t set out to be an exhaustive field guide, a task already fully covered by Bruce Hallett’s indispensable Birds of the Bahamas and the TCI. Nor is it anything like my own photographic tome ‘Birds of Abaco’, differing in scope and intention, and weighing a mere 225 gms as opposed to 2 kilos! Beautiful Bahama Birds is eminently a book for the pocket, day bag or backback, to be carried along with your Hallett.

I have illustrated this review with photos of sample pages of the book, invariably the best way to give a clear impression of this kind of publication. Apologies that some of my images are a bit wonky, my copy being new and individual pages being hard to keep flat…

Beautiful Bahama Birds 1 Beautiful Bahama Birds 2

The photographs throughout the book are mainly the work of Linda Huber and the late Tony Hepburn. I was fortunate enough to be able to use some of Tony’s photographs for my own book, given with unreserved generosity; it is a fitting tribute to him that his images have now been published in Beautiful Bahama Birds, and that it  is dedicated to him.Beautiful Bahama Birds 3

An idea of the broad scope and of the book and its usefulness to the birder can be gained from the contents pages, which I reproduce here. Click to enlarge them. The book is arranged in 3 parts: Let’s Go Birding; Field Guide to 60 Common Birds; and Conservation Now.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 4Beautiful Bahama Birds 5b

PART 1 offers plenty of useful information and practical advice about birding in general (I wish I could have read this before I started my own book!). Anyone who loves birds will benefit from this whole section, even if they would not call themselves a birder – especially Chapter 3 ‘Getting Closer to Bird Life’.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 6  Beautiful Bahama Birds 7

PART 2 All 5 Bahama endemics are featured in the main section, which is handily divided  very broadly into ‘waterbirds’ and ‘land birds’. Some birds are commonly found on most islands; some have more limited range: for example the Bahama Oriole is now found only on Andros; and breeding populations of the Cuban Parrot are found only on Abaco and Inagua (the increasing number of sightings on New Providence give some hope for a breeding population there too). I’ve chosen the parrot because the underground-nesting subspecies on Abaco is so special; and the Flamingo and Bahama Oriole, both very sadly extirpated from Abaco in recent memory.

The illustrations by Tracy Pederson and Kristin Willams are clear and highlight well the identifiers for each species. Where necessary, species variations are shown, for example between sexes, breeding / non-breeding plumage and adult / immature. This can be a confusing and even fraught area (as I constantly find), which this book usefully addresses.  Some birds in flight are also shown to aid ID.

   Beautiful Bahama Birds 8 Beautiful Bahama Birds 9

Beautiful Bahama Birds 10

PART 3 covers the National Parks, important birding areas of the Bahamas, conservation matters, and a charming section on birds in Bahamian culture. Appendices include lists of Bahamas native plants and their importance for wildlife; National Parks and Protected Areas; important birding areas of the Bahamas; a Checklist; a Bibliography; and a user-friendly Index (not all are…).

 Beautiful Bahama Birds 13 Beautiful Bahama Birds 12

A good Checklist is a vital ingredient for any birder, whether visitor or local. Here, all the species occurring on the islands are shown on the left and their residential status and range throughout the islands across the top. Thus at a glance you can tell whether a given species is found on a particular island and when it may be found there. You would know not to look for Turkey Vultures on Eleuthera at any time; and that the black-bellied plover is a winter resident throughout the region and not to be seen during your trip in June…  I also like the tick-boxes on the left for species collectors.

Beautiful Bahama Birds 11

Overall I have thoroughly enjoyed this small book and unreservedly recommend it. It does not replace Hallett, but it complements it. Furthermore, I’m sure the straightforward style and presentation will appeal to bird-loving non-birders and also to younger birders – it may even encourage some out into the field! On p.20 the recommended reading list includes books that would appeal to young readers and links to appropriate websites, a thoughtful touch. I have learnt, or been reminded of, much from reading this book a couple of times. It is a welcome addition to the relatively sparse avian literature for the Bahamas, a prime birding region that is home to an astonishingly wide variety of birds including rare, threatened and vulnerable species like the Parrots, the Kirtland’s Warbler and the Piping Plover.

BOOK LINKS

RH BOOK REVIEW PAGE

BIRDER’S GUIDE TO THE BAHAMA ISLANDS (Tony White)

JAMES BOND (LICENSED TO WATCH BIRDS…)

SAN SALVADOR BIRDS

DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO


Ring-billed Gull ACH DSC_0451 copy

RING-BILLED GULLS ON ABACO

The Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis is a common winter gull, familiar to all in its adult form because of its… er… ringed bill that distinguishes it from all the other gull species found in the northern Bahamas. There are other differences, obviously, but this beak-related signifier provides the easiest method of ID. To be honest, you may find one anywhere – out to sea, on the shore, inland, or perhaps hanging out at one of the dumps that they are attracted to. This last preference is one shared with many species, but while the dumps may provide good birding venues, the photographic backgrounds and general ambience may be somewhat unattractive… Here are 3 great photos by Nina Henry of these gulls where they look best, near the shoreline.

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Woody Bracey reports from Treasure Cay “I had my first for the fall here in Treasure cay yesterday – one adult and 1 immature. It’s nice to have them back”. So keep an eye out – the ring-billeds are back on Abaco…

Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)Ring-Billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry)

The Latin name of these gulls refers to the Delaware River, Pennsylvania, which is on their migration route. But there must have been dozens of other towns along the route with equal claim to have a bird named after them. Why Delaware took the honours, I cannot explain… and thinking about it has inserted the old song in my brain “What did Delaware, boys? What did Delaware? She wore a brand New Jersey…” etc etc**. So I’ll get on and show some more RBGs to get it out of my head. Here are 3 stages of development from Bruce Hallett.

JuvenileRing-billed Gull (juv), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

First winterRing-billed Gull (1st winter), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

AdultRing-billed Gull, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Laughing Gulls are gregarious creatures, and are quite often found in a group with some other seabird in the middle of the crowd – often a larger one. Here is a ring-billed gull standing proudly in the throng, while the laughing gulls snooze in the sun on the jetty. Ring-billed Gull + Laughing Gulls, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Photo Credits: Tony Hepburn (1), Nina Henry (2,3,4), Bruce Hallett (5,6,7), Peter Mantle (8)

** If you want to remind yourself – or inflict on yourself for the first time – the entire US-State-related pun-encrusted jingle CLICK DELAWARE DITTY