‘BAHAMAS SHRIMPING’: BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS


Banded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

‘BAHAMAS SHRIMPING’: BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS

The Banded Coral Shrimp Stenopus hispidus is also known as the banded cleaner shrimp because it cleans other fish (see TAKEN TO THE CLEANERS); and ‘boxing shrimp’ because its stance and the large pincers on the third set of legs give the creature the appearance of a boxer ready to fight.

Banded Coral Shrimp Stenopus hispidus (Johan Fredriksson) a

These shrimps are widely distributed in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world where coral reefs are found. Their striking colour scheme makes them instantly recognisable.

Banded Coral Shrimp (Alexander Vasenin) a

BANDED CORAL SHRIMP ON STAR CORAL AT NIGHTBanded Coral Shrimp on Star Coral (night) - LASZLO ILYES

 BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS: 10 FACTS TO BANDY ABOUT

  • BCSs are decapods, having 5 matching pairs of legs / claws on each side
  • They can be found as deep as 200 metres in the ocean
  • They are also found in aquaria, but need careful management because…
  • They are generally aggressive to other BCSs & shrimps in the same tank and
  • They need room for their long legs and antennae to move freely around
  • However, rather sweetly, they are monogamous and do not eat their partners
  • Diet-wise they are omnivore carnivore scavengers
  • They are said to be amusing to watch as they rush round a tank after food
  • Not a good shrimp to breed: the larvae get stuck in the filtration or get eaten
  • In the sea, they act as ‘cleaner’ fish to larger fish species (see below)

Banded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Banded Coral Shrimp (+ Moray Tail) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

In its capacity as a cleaner shrimp, the BCS solicits passing fish by slowly waving its long, white antennae. It then uses its three pairs of claws to remove parasites, fungi and damaged tissue from the fish. See the video example below.

A Banded Coral Shrimp (Stenopus hispidus).

BANDED CORAL SHRIMP CLEANING A PASSING YELLOW TANG

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPS IN A VASE SPONGE

Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Johan Fredriksson; Alexander Vasenin; Laszlo Ilyesr; R. Ling; LiveAquaria, Fishlore [nb not all pics are from the Bahamas, but the BCS is the same the world over…]

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)


Black-necked Stilt, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S BIRDING HOTSPOTS (42 OF THE BAHAMAS TOP 100)

Right now, I’m doing daily checks on the indispensable EBIRD CARIBBEAN in relation to the ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH project (and incidentally if you encounter one or more on a beach near you, details would be very welcome – below is what to look out for!).

Piping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

It occurred to me to check out the contention that Abaco is Numero Uno birding destination in the Bahamas (though sadly lacking the flamingoes, except for vagrants; and the Bahama oriole, now extirpated and confined to select areas of Andros). Sure enough, Abaco has 42 out of the top 100 birding hotspots. In the map below, gray pointers indicate a few observations, blue means 50+ and green represents 100+. Nowhere has yet achieved the flame-red pointer – the ultimate hotspot accolade…

Abaco Birding Hotspots Map (eBird)

People often ask where best to go for quality birding on Abaco. The answer depends of course on the season and on what they are after – for example shorebirds or warblers; parrots or absence of parrots and so on. The Abaco 42 are listed below. There are a couple points to make about the hotspot list:

  • There is a degree of duplication, eg Gorda Cay / Castaway Cay being shown as separate entries, as is Angelfish Point / Angel Fish Point
  • Also, the data gathered by eBird is entirely dependent on regular uploads of checklists. Inevitably the birders will mostly be regulars, with their own preferred beats or perhaps with an interest limited to the area where they live. Some records show long gaps – sometimes a couple of years – between reports. So the eBird data can only give an overview, not a precise record of actual observations or birding effort and success. 

Bahama Woodstar male 3.1.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley copy

In very general terms, and assuming a broad birding interest, I would recommend the Treasure Cay area; in and around Marsh Harbour; the stretch east of the Highway that takes in Bahama Palm Shores, the Abaco Neem Farm, Delphi, Crossing Rocks & Gilpin Point; the National Park; and Sandy Point. I’m sure there will be other views, but I am thinking primarily of the visitor who has but a single day to spare from a packed schedule of fishing, swimming, sunbathing, eating and drinking… [nb as a soi-disant photographer I’m not so keen on the dumps and landfill. Yes, the birding can be good. No, I don’t want to feature rubbish in my already rubbish photos…]

American Oystercatcher4.1.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley RH 2

Here’s the eBird list, omitting all the non-Abaconian hotspots. Clicking on the links will take you straight to the relevant location’s latest reports and show some of the species seen there. I haven’t checked every link, but spot-checks suggest they work ok…

3 Treasure Cay GC

4 Abacos–Citrus Farm near Treasure Cay

5 Abaco–Sandy Point

8 Angel Fish Point

10 Marsh Harbour

12 Abaco–Crossing Rocks

13 Abacos–Treasure Cay Dump

14 Abacos–Treasure Cay West Side

18 Abaco Cays IBA–Great Guana Cays

20 Abacos–Treasure Cay Sunset Ridge and vicinity

22 Robert’s nursery, ponds and marls overlook

23 Abaco–Bahama Palm Shores

28 Abaco Cays IBA–Green Turtle Cay

32 Gilpin Point

35 Hope Town, Elbow Cay

37 Big Bird

38 Castaway Cay

41 Man-o-war Cay

44 Abaco National Park IBA

45 Marsh Harbour–Landfill

52 Island Homes–Beach

57 Abaco Beach Resort

60 North Atlantic Abaco Cays IBA

62 North dump (Abaco)

65 Marsh Harbour

69 Cherokee Sound

70 Great Guana Cay

72 Green Turtle Cay Sand Spit

73 Angelfish Point

81 Green Turtle Cay

82 Track north of Hwy

86 Southern Abaco IBA

87 Abaco Neem farm

88 Marsh Harbor Airport

89 Abaco–Crown Haven

91 Little Abaco IBA

92 Abaco–Hole-in-the-Wall

93 Camp Abaco

94 Little Harbour

96 Castaway Cay

97 Cooper’s Town

98 Crossing Rock / Island Homes

Bahamas-Great Abaco_4846_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

RELATED POSTS

AUDUBON’S ‘PRIORITY BIRDS’ ON ABACO

ABACO BIRDS FOUND IN NYC (& VICE VERSA)

THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)11

Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, RH

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY


Red-spotted Purple Butterfly, Abaco (Selah Vie)

ABACO BUTTERFLIES feat. FLUTTERY PHILATELY

I’ve been distracted from my intended scribble by a lovely butterfly posted by ‘Selah Vie’, one I’ve never seen before. It’s one of those lepidots that have a topside surprisingly and excitingly different from the underwings (see header image). Imagine having this beauty turning up on your patio…

RED-SPOTTED PURPLE BUTTERFLYRed-spotted Purple Butterfly (Selah Vie)

This reminded me that I have some butterfly images waiting in the wings (ha!), so now is the time to encourage a few out of their virtual chrysalis for wider appreciation. 

BAHAMAS SWALLOWTAILBahama Swallowtail? Palamedes Swallowtail?Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 2Bahama Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) 1

POLYDAMUS SWALLOWTAILPolydamus Swallowtail, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)Hibiscus / Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

MONARCH BUTTERFLYMonarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 2 Monarch Butterfly, Abaco (Charmaine Albury) 1

MONK (?) SKIPPER

Skipper Butterfly, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

FRITILLARY (make unknown)Fritillary, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

tigertail

FLUTTERY PHILATELY

The Bahamas has an excellent record for producing colourful stamp issues showcasing the wildlife of the islands – birds, reef fish and of course butterflies. I’ve posted about these several time, and they are more or less collected together on a dedicated stamp page HERE. As for the butterflies, they get a new issue every decade or so. Here are the last four.

1975

Bahamas Butterfly Stamps 1974

1983

$_1-1

1994

$_1-1 copy

2008

baha08002

tigertail          imgres          tigertail

Credits: Selah Vie (1, 2); Uli Nowlan (3); Rhonda Pearce (4, 5, 6, 10, 11); RH (7); Charmaine Albury (8, 9); open source / ads etc (all stamps)

BAHAMAS MANATEE MAGIC ON ABACO & BEYOND


Gina the Manatee & her calf (BMMRO)

Gina (adult female) and her calf – last seen August 6th, 2015 in Spanish Wells Key feature – numerous paddle cuts; white oval scar on left side of back; linear scar on posterior right side of body

BAHAMAS MANATEE MAGIC ON ABACO & BEYOND

Four years ago, there were no manatees in Abaco waters. Then a couple of adventuresome sirenians made the trip over from the Berry Is. and since then, there have been at least one, sometimes two and occasionally three resident on Abaco. And for slow, gentle, animals they certainly move around, too. In the past, I wrote quite often about the manatees, charting their journeys based on satellite tracking and sightings. I reported the tantalising prospect of the young male, Randy, hooking up with young female Georgie in Cherokee Sound, only to turn back when he reached Little Harbour. You can read more about the manatees of Abaco on my manatee page HERE.

     Georgie’s epic trip (Sept 12) continued to Cherokee Sound; and Randy’s ‘pursuit’ (Sept 14)Georgie Manatee's direct route to Abaco       Randy's the Manatee's trip Berry Is. to Abaco copy

The most comprehensive source for Bahamas Manatee information is now to be found by joining the open Facebook group BAHAMA MANATEE CLUB, skilfully curated by Felice Leanne Knowles. There, you can follow the meanderings of your favourite Abaco manatee, watching as he or she moves around the island and cays. In recent months there have been sightings of single or pairs of manatees in several places, including Sandy Point, Little harbour, Marsh Harbour, Schooner Bay and Hope Town Harbour (where two are right now). Here’s an excellent example of how, just like a Beach Boy, an Abaco manatee gets around. In July, Randy moved from Sandy Point to Schooner Bay in 2 days. The big question is, did he travel round the longer top route, as he has in the past; or (more likely in the time taken) via Hole-in-the-Wall?

Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout

Randy the Abaco Manatee goes swimabout

Felice has just produced a great map that shows the present locations of all the Bahamas manatees currently recorded. She has also supplied photos and information about them. Most have names and are well-known to the research team and the locals where they stay. There is one new calf – Gina’s –  this year. One or two manatees are new on the scene and have yet to be identified or named. 

Manatees Throughout The Bahamas

The map shows the last location of the named manatees. The pink dots label females, the green dots label males, and the yellow dots label unknown manatees. The number of unknown manatees has been approximated to reduce error. The photos are of the individual manatees with dates and specific locations of their most recent sighting. We do not have enough data and photos to confirm the unknowns labeled. Any help from the public would be greatly appreciated. Send sighting reports to http://www.bahamaswhales.org/sightings/index.html NB Felice points out Full body and paddle photos are very important for the identification of manatees. Facial shots do not provide enough information for a manatee to be identified”

Bahamas Manatee Location Map - Aug 2015 (Felice Leanne Knowles)

Gina the Manatee, Casuarina, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Georgie (sub-adult female) Last seen in Casuarina, Abaco 9th July, 2015 Key feature – 2 pink scars on the right posterior of her body

Randy the Manatee, Hope Town, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Randy (sub-adult male) Last sighted in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on right side of paddle

Manatees, Hope Town, Abaco (BMMRO / FLK)

Unknown (adult, presumed female) with Randy Last seen in Hope Town August 12th, 2015 Key feature – 3 prop scars on the posterior right side of body

Gina the Manatee with her calf, Spanish Wells Bahamas (BMMRO / FLK)

Gina’s Calf Last seen August 6th, Spanish Wells Key feature – none yet, just really tiny!

Blackbeard the manatee, Lyford Cay, New Providence (BMMRO / FLK)

Blackbeard (adult male) Last seen in Lyford Cay August 13th, 2015 Key features – triangle cut on right side of paddle (similar to Randy’s); oval scar on centre of paddle; three prop scars on the back and linear scar

Kong the Bahamas Manatee, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Is. (BMMRO / FLK)

Kong (adult male) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – triangle cut on the left side of paddle; linear scar across the back; oval scar on the back near paddle

J.J. the manatee, Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands (BMMRO / FLK)

J.J. (sub-adult female) Last seen in Great Harbour Cay Marina, Berry Islands, February 25th, 2015 Key feature – 3 small semi-circular cuts out of paddle at the very end

Rita the Manatee, Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island (BMMRO/ FLK)

Rita (adult female) Last seen 23rd March, 2014 Hawks Nest Marine, Cat Island Key feature – Large triangle cut on right side of paddle; two small triangular cuts side by side forming a “w” on the left side of paddle

Unknown adult Manatee, West Grand Bahama (BMMRO /FLK)

Unknown adult, West Grand Bahama – Key feature: too distant!

Manatee Awareness Poster jpg

You may have noticed that several of the manatees shown carry scars attributable to prop wounds. Almost all carry injuries of some sort. Because manatees are slow, gentle, inquisitive and trusting creatures, they are especially vulnerable in harbour areas for obvious reasons. Elsewhere than the Bahamas, boat-strike is one of the main causes of manatee mortality. The BMMRO recently issued the above advisory notice because of the uncertainty about the rights and wrongs of watering manatees from docks with hoses and feeding them lettuce etc. Overall the message is that, though creatures of wonder, they are better off being admired but left to their own devices. They are adept at finding the fresh water sources they need, and their sea-grass diet is amply provided for. Dependence on humans, however well-meaning, is actually harmful.

The Travelling Mantee’s Favourite Song

RELATED LINKS

BAHAMA MANATEE CLUB

REPORT MANATEE SIGHTINGS

BMMRO

ROLLING HARBOUR MANATEES

MANATEE CONSERVATION

Credits: first and foremost, Felice Leanne Knowles; also BMMRO, Charlotte, & Diane for permission to make free with their material and photos from the get-go; any other photographers of the manatees shown and posted via BMMRO / FLK (Cha Boyce, Jessica Mullen,Otis Wilhoyte I think, maybe others…)

Manatee Logo (Savethemanatee.org)

ABACO’S WINTER WARBLERS: ARRIVING ANY MOMENT!


Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco

ABACO’S WINTER WARBLERS: ARRIVING ANY MOMENT!

To celebrate the forthcoming influx of the ‘confusing fall warblers’ of the winter season, here is a reminder of my guide to the 37 warbler species found on Abaco, of which only 5 are permanent residents. The remainder are either winter residents of variable scarcity; or transients somewhat randomly passing through. As ace birdman Woody Bracey has rightly commented on the guide, “One note of caution to new birders. Most transients are seen in Abaco in the fall. They are not in bright breeding plumage at this time. That’s why they’re called ‘confusing fall warblers’. So don’t expect all the birds you see to look exactly like the photos. Females and juveniles are generally duller and may look very different from Spring males”.

Last season, Charmaine Albury saw 22 of the possible warbler species on Man-o-War Cay, a remarkably good proportion for a small island (I’d be interested if anyone can top that in one location).  Add prolific shorebirds including piping plovers to the mix and it looks as though MoW is fast becoming a reliable hotspot for birding. Charmaine’s species were:  Yellow-throated, Tennessee, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Pine, Bahama, Ovenbird, Worm Eating, Northern Waterthrush, Black and White, Cape May, Redstart, Northern Parula, Black-throated Blue, Palm, Yellow-rumped, Prairie, Hooded, Prothonotary, Orange-crowned, Blackburnian, BlackPoll.

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S 37 WARBLER SPECIES

Until a couple of years ago, I lazily believed all of the warblers were (a) near identical and (b) yellow, differing only in their extent of yellowness. Not so. I know better now. The seasonal migration prompted me to devise a general guide to all the various warblers, so that the great diversity can be appreciated. The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible (1) male and (2) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.

Abaco has 37 warbler species recorded for the main island and cays. They fall into 3 categories: 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are endemics; 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to rarities such as the Kirtland’s Warbler; and 11 transients, most of which you will be lucky to encounter. The codes given for each bird show the residence status and also the likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe only recorded once or twice).

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

PERMANENT RESIDENTS

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco - Tom Reed

YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler, Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1 

Pine Warbler, Abaco - Tom Reed

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1 ENDEMIC

Bahama Warbler, Abaco - Alex Hughes

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

WINTER RESIDENTS  (COMMON)

OVENBIRD Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1 

OVENBIRD_Bahamas-Great Abaco_6639_Ovenbird_Gerlinde Taurer 2

WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2 

Worm-eating Warbler.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH  Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1 

BAHAMAS - Northern Waterthrush - Oct 2010 Becky Marvil

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER Mniotilta varia WR 2 

Black & White Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas WR 1 

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copy

AMERICAN REDSTART  Setophaga ruticilla WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6334_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

CAPE MAY WARBLER Setophaga tigrina WR 1 

Cape May Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana WR 1 

Northern Parula, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Setophaga caerulescens WR 2 

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PALM WARBLER  Setophaga palmarum WR 1 

Palm Warbler, Abaco - Peter Mantle

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Setophaga coronata WR 2 

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco - Keith Salvesen (RH)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Setophaga dominica WR 1 

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PRAIRIE WARBLER Setophaga discolor WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6609_Prairie Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy 2

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

 WINTER RESIDENTS  (UNCOMMON TO RARE)

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH Parkesia motacilla WR 3 

Louisiana waterthrush William H. Majoros WIKI

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3

Blue-winged Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

Blue-winged Warbler. talainsphotographyblog

SWAINSON’S WARBLER  Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4 

Swainson's Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NASHVILLE WARBLER Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4 

Nashville Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

HOODED WARBLER Setophaga citrina WR 3 

Hooded Warbler, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLER Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4 

Kirtland's Warbler (m), Abaco - Woody Bracey

MAGNOLIA WARBLER Setophaga magnolia WR 3 

Magnolia warbler, Abaco - Craig Nash

BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER Setophaga virens WR 3 

Black-throated Green Warbler - talainsphotographyblog

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

TRANSIENTS

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER Protonotaria citrea TR 3 

Prothonotary Warbler, Abaco - Ann Capling

TENNESSEE WARBLER Oreothlypis peregrina TR 4 

Tennessee Warbler Jerry Oldenettel Wiki

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER  Oreothlypis celata TR 4 

Orange-crowned Warbler dominic sherony wiki

CONNECTICUT WARBLER Oporonis agilis TR 4 

Connecticut Warbler Central Park NYC 10000birds.com

KENTUCKY WARBLER Geothlypis formosa TR 4 

Kentucky_Warbler Steve Maslowski wiki - Version 2

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER Setophaga castanea TR 4 

Bay-breated warbler MDF Wiki

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER Setophaga fusca TR 4

Blackburnian Warbler Mdf wiki

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER Setophaga pensylvanica TR 4

Chestnut-sided Warbler talainsphotographyblog - Version 2

BLACKPOLL WARBLER Setophaga striata TR 3 

Blackpoll Warbler avibirds.com

WILSON’S WARBLER Cardellina pusilla TR 4 

Wilson's Warbler Michael Woodruff wiki

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT Icteria virens TR 4 

Yellow-breasted Chat Emily Willoughby wiki

PHOTO CREDITS: GUIDE (1 – 37) Bruce Hallett (Header, 3, 9, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22); Tom Reed (1, 4); Tom Sheley (2, 7, 10); Alex Hughes (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 11, 18);  Becky Marvil (8, 20a); Woody Bracey (13, 24); Peter Mantle (15); RH (16); William H. Majoros (wiki)(19);  talainsphotographyblog (20b, 26, 34); Charmaine Albury (23); Craig Nash (25); Ann Capling (27); Jerry Oldenettel wiki (28); Dominic Sherony wiki (29); 10000birds (30); Steve Maslowski wiki (31);  MDF wiki (32, 33); Avibirds (35); Michael Woodruff wiki (36); Emily Willoughby wiki (37)

CHECKLIST & CODES based on the complete checklist and codes for Abaco devised by Tony White with Woody Bracey for “THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” by Keith Salvesen

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)


Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

BAHAMA PINTAILS ON ABACO (WITH YELLOWLEGS PHOTOBOMB)

I’m not going to pretend that these are particularly meritorious bird photos in any way. We were at Gilpin Point pond, always a good place to see birds and now an area that has regular parrot fly-pasts (and hang-around-squawkings). It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora creeping guiltily around the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of all kinds, white-cheeked (bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail. I’ve seen belted kingfishers, bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Always worth a try! One day perhaps I’ll make a checklist… **

A ‘Preening of Pintail’ with a lesser yellowlegs feeding happily (if blurrily) behind themBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

Less than a minute earlier… PHOTOBOMBBahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

The photobomb was a complete surprise, but I managed to snap the more elegant landing…Bahama (Whitecheeked) Pintail with Lesser Yellowlegs, Gilpin Point, Abaco

** As a postscript, I see that Pericles Maillis posted on eBird his very brief bird count at Gilpin pond and on the beach a couple of days after I posted this. He saw

  • 3 Blue-winged Teal (‘first sighting of bw teal for 2015 migration’)
  • 20 White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail
  • 1 Great Blue Heron
  • 1 Snowy Egret
  • 2 Tricolored Heron
  • 5 Green Heron
  • 2 Killdeer
  • 2 Ruddy Turnstone
  • 10 Laughing Gull
  • 1 Caribbean Dove
  • 8 House Sparrow

Pics: RH

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (1): BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES


Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

WHALE TALES FROM ABACO (1): BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

Back in March we were invited by Charlotte and Diane of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO to spend a day out with them on the research boat, a chance we jumped at. I had been writing on and off about the organisation’s whale, dolphin and manatee research since the very early days of this blog. We’d seen bottlenose dolphins in Abaco waters, but never whales. This was the big day…

Our first sighting was a short distance south of Rocky Point, as we moved beyond the turquoise water of the low sandbanks into the deeper, darker ocean waters of the Bahama canyon beyond. Whale territory. The shoreline was plainly in view to the east; and to the north, on the horizon, was the massive bulk of the ‘fun ship’ parked at Castaway (Gorda) cay.

Beaked whale or fun ship for a day out? You decide…Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

A Blainville’s beaked whale noses towards the research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The Blainville’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) is also known slightly less politely as the dense-beaked whale.  It is named for the French zoologist Henri de Blainville who first described the species in 1817 based on his examinations of a piece of jaw or ‘rostrum’ — the heaviest bone he had ever come across — which resulted in the name densirostris (Latin for “dense beak”).

The beak breaks the surfaceBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The BMMRO has carried out intensive research on the species for a number of years in the northern Bahamas, with detailed documentation of sightings and photo identification of individual animals. More recently, these whales have been the subject of incredibly detailed research into their species intercommunication through vocalisations – mainly clicks and click patterns. To view Charlotte’s PhD thesis for St Andrew’s University click HERE (and many congratulations, Dr Dunn…). Just reading the contents table will give a good idea of the scope and complexity of the research. 

The blowhole, used for breathing, in close-up. You can hear this in the video below.Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Our amazing first encounter with 6 whales lasted nearly an hour. Usually, they stay near the surface for 20 minutes or so, then they do a deep dive lasting roughly 20 minutes before resurfacing. But on this occasion they behaved more like huge dolphins, swimming towards the boat, around it, under it, then drifting away again before returning.

Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Given their length of some 15 feet and weight of about 2000 pounds, it was a extraordinary experience to see them at such close quarters.

Whale showing healed circular wounds caused by COOKIECUTTER SHARKSBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The Blainville’s range is extensive and in general terms they may be found in tropical and sub-tropical waters worldwide. They are by no means uncommon, but apart from the data collected by the BMMRO it seems that comparatively little is known about them. Their diet is thought to consist mainly of squid found at depth. They are protected by a variety of Agreements, Memoranda of Understanding, Protocols and so forth throughout the worldwide range.

Cetacea_range_map_Blainvilles_Beaked_WhaleBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

The research boat is equipped with sonar the can pick up the click and whistles of whales and dolphins from a considerable distance. It was remarkable to watch a group of cetaceans and to be able to hear them loudly and animatedly communicating with each other..Blainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

Another vital aspect of the research is poop scooping. As soon as the whales had gathered round the boat, Charlotte slid into the water with her scoop net… the cloudy poop yields a mass of information about an individual creature. I wrote about this interesting job, often tasked to interns (who practice with coffee grounds) in ‘FAMILIAR FECES’.

Charlotte expertly wields the poop scoopBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) 11 16.46.13

Then, all too soon, it was deep dive time. The whales moved off from the boat and slowly, without show or splash, disappeared. And we went to investigate HOLE-IN-THE-WALL at close quarters. The next post will feature an adult male Blainville’s beaked whale, with his massive barnacle-encrusted teeth protruding upwards from his lower jaw.

The remains of a neat and undramatic deep diveBlainville's Beaked Whales, Abaco (1) (Keith Salvesen)

In this very short video of two whales right by the boat: you can actually hear their breathing.

BMMRO research RHIB with Diane           BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, AbacoBMMRO Research Boat, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) BMMRO HQ, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos RH; Charlotte & Diane for a brilliant day out; Mr Blainville for a brilliant whale

220px-Henri_Marie_Ducrotay_de_Blainville