CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)


Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

CRYSTAL CATHEDRALS: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (6)

The photos you see in this post were all taken by Hitoshi Miho during an amazing 3 days of diving with Brian Kakuk deep in the pine forests of South Abaco. It’s not the first time they have explored together the wonders that lie beneath those hundreds of acres of pines and scrub; I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The most spectacular cave systems are the adjacent Ralph’s and Dan’s Caves. These systems are believed to be linked, and I know Brian has been trying to find where they meet – a difficult and dangerous task carried out underwater many metres below the forest floor, and requiring sophisticated diving equipment and great expertise. 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The latest 3-day exploration involved 12 dives and nearly 30 hours underwater in Ralph’s Cave. Narrow passages open out into massive caverns filled with wonderful and complex crystal stalagtites and stalagmites formed over eons. I hope you enjoy examples from the ‘Rooms’ and passages, many with exotic names (Glass Factory, Ninja Passage, Erabor); some more prosaic (Fred’s Room). Then try to imagine that you are actually swimming there.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

I shall be posting some more photos in due course showing some of the details of the cave formations – intricate patterns, delicate tracery, irridescent colouring, pencil-thin rods, ‘rock’ folds that look like the finest linen. As always I am immensely grateful to both intrepid divers for use permission. I won’t pretend that these thrilling caves are easily accessible – this is emphatically not an adventure to try unguided with a snorkel and flippers. But as you drive along the highway past miles of forest, it’s worth reflecting that far below you are some of the most magnificent cave systems anywhere in the world – right there, on your very own island… 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

As it happens, the Delphi Club is very close to these caves, which lie within the boundaries of the newly created ‘South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (see map). This is one of several such conservation areas on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas that are designed to protect the natural resources of the islands from development and exploitation. The second map shows how tantalisingly close Dan’s and Ralph’s caves are… and suggests that further exploration may lead to the missing link.

abaco-caves-map-jpgAbaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Finally, here is a 4-minute video of one small part of the exploration, which gives a very good idea of what is entailed in investigating the narrow passages and huge cathedral-like caverns. Welcome to the Fangon Forest…

Hitoshi Miho, Ralph's Cave, Abaco

STIRRING TALES OF NORTHERN SHOVELERS


Northern Shoveler male. Abaco Bahamas. 2.12.Tom Sheley copy 2

STIRRING TALES OF NORTHERN SHOVELERS

I’m broadly in favour of self-identifying bird names. You know where you are with a Spoonbill. If its bill is spoon-shaped, it is one. Conversely if it isn’t, it isn’t. True, you might waste a lot of time looking for a brownish duck gadding about near a wall, but the general principle of WYCIIWYG (what you call it is what you get) is a useful one.

Northern Shoveler 2.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

Thus with shovelers. Their beaks are shovel-shaped. They shovel about in the water to feed. It’s that simple. Being dabbling ducks, they are dab hands (wings?) at upending themselves to get that sturdy beak down in the water. These are highly specialist gadgets too, edged with ‘combs’ (lamellae) that strain out the water from a diet that includes aquatic vegetation and invertebrates.  You can see this arrangement in the male shoveler in the header image.

Northern Shoveler.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley

The male shoveler has striking plumage, with one of those ‘mallard drake’-coloured heads that is green except when the light catches it and it looks blue. I say ‘looks’, because the blue shades apparent in bird plumage do not result from pigments (which absorb most colours but reflect the visible colours) but from so-called ‘structural colouration’ resulting from scattered light, with the blue wavelength dominant. So even the bluest of blue birds – a bluebird, say, or an indigo bunting – is not blue but appears blue. But the bright red pigmentation of a male Northern cardinal is ‘real’ colour. 

This male shoveler does not have a blue head…Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 5

Northern Shoveler (m & f) Abaco (Tony Hepburn) Northern Shoveler, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

The shovelers shown above (except for the ‘blue’-headed one which comes from the set below) were all photographed on Abaco. I mentioned the familiar dabbling method of feeding earlier. However a few days ago in Central Park NYC on The Lake near Bow Bridge, I witnessed shoveler feeding behaviour that was new to me. It’s probably perfectly well-known and documented, but that’s amateurs for you**. A flock of about 30 male and female shovelers had split into smaller groups of between 2 and 10. They formed circles – sometimes very tight – and swam round each other with their heads underwater, stirring up the water as they paddled round, so that their bills were always immersed in freshly disturbed food possibilities. The effect was hypnotic, as you can see from the 15 sec video I took. Although in the clip it looks as though the birds are rapidly progressing to the right, they in fact stayed in much the same place. They were not very close to me, so these are illustrative images rather than ‘Audubon shots’.

Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 7Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 1Northen Shovelers Foraging (Keith Salvesen) 3

** Of course as soon as I looked I discovered that “Large groups of northern shovelers swim rapidly in circles to collect food from the surface by creating a funnel effect” (cheers to Wiki)Spinus-northern-shoveler-2015-01-n025006-w

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Woody Bracey (5); Keith Salvesen (the rest)

AVIAN PISCAVORES CAUGHT IN THE ACT…



Tri-colored Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)

AVIAN PISCAVORES CAUGHT IN THE ACT…

There’s something enjoyable about watching a wild creature having a good meal, even if the meal consists of an item that, all things considered, you personally would prefer not to eat. While I am temporarily parted from my computer for a few days, I am able to publish blog posts from my phone. I could write one too, but that’s a bothersome and fiddly process, best avoided. So I thought you might enjoy a gallery of gorgeous birds doing what they like to do best – eat fish. Many thanks as ever to Phil Lanoue and Danny Sauvageau for use permission for their truly exceptional photos.

Great Blue Heron & Fish (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant with fish (Phil Lanoue)Anhingha with fish (Phil Lanoue)White Egret with fish (Phil Lanoue)Green Heron with fish (Phil Lanoue)Osprey with fish (Phil Lanoue)Tern with fishReddish Egret (white morph) with fish (Phil Lanoue)green-heron-gilpin-point-abaco-keith-salvesenOsprey, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

Birds featured are tri-colored heron in breeding plumage, great blue heron, cormorant, anhinga, white egret, green heron, osprey, tern and reddish egret (white morph).

All photos by Phil Lanoue except penultimate (Keith Salvesen) and last (Danny Sauvageau)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (6): THE SAND DIVER


Sand Divers Bahamas ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (6): THE SAND DIVER

Time for another in the WTF? series, featuring weird (begging their pardons) or not very fish-like fish. The Sand Diver Synodus intermedius is a type of lizardfish found in subtropical waters and often around coral reefs. They can grow up to about 18 inches long and a prime specimen might weigh a couple of pounds. The markings are quite variable but one common characteristic seems to be a tendency to look somewhat down in the mouth; and to possess jaws full of tiny sharp teeth.

Sand Diver - ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Sand divers have two rows of teeth on their upper jaw and three rows on their lower jaw. Not content with that, they also have rows of teeth on the palate and tongue. Were they 50 times the size, they would be truly awesome.

Sand Diver ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The rather primitive appearance of the sand diver is explicable from fossils, which show that their forbears  were active in the Jurassic / Cretacean periods.

Sand Diver ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

HOW DO THEY GET THEIR NAME?

Sand divers often bury themselves in the sand with only their head showing. They are so-called ‘ambush predators’, and burial is one method they use. Another is simply to lie on the sandy bottom, or on reef surfaces and wait for passing prey. Their colouring provides very good camouflage.Sand Diver Fish

WHAT’S ON A SAND DIVER MENU?

A good mix of small reef fishes. Bar jacks, blue chromis, wrasses, fairy basslets, small grunts and so forth. At their own level they are quite fearsome predators.

Sand Diver © Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

ARE THEY ON THE HUMAN MENU?

Well, I knew someone would ask that, so I carried out a search. The answer seems to be no. I have found nothing to suggest that they are edible, or that anyone has tried (or if they have, survived to tell the tale). Incidentally, the best way to find out if something is edible by humans is to search for a recipe. There are no sand diver recipes.

Sand Diver ©Fred Riger @ G B Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba

BIG APPLE BIRDS YOU CAN’T SEE ON ABACO…


Red Cardinal 2 NYC

BIG APPLE BIRDS YOU CAN’T SEE ON ABACO…

This post is the converse of my LAST POST, as we prepare to visit the City of the Trump Tower for a few days. There are some birds found in NYC that have never been recorded for Abaco – some not even for the Bahamas at all. A few of these are surprising absences.

Northern Cardinal, Central Park NYCNorthern Cardinal NYC

The Northern Cardinal, to take one example, is a common and widespread bird in many States. It is the emblem of many sporting teams and *FUN FACT ALERT* it is the state bird of more states than any other species – 7 in all! Sorry, what did you say? Oh, OK, they are Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia. [It is said, rather bathetically  that “it was also a candidate to become the state bird of Delaware, but lost to the Delaware Blue Hen.“]

Downy Woodpecker, Prospect Park BrooklynDowny Woodpecker 2 NYC

On eBird the east coast of Florida is positively flaming with Cardinal hotspots. The birds smother the state that is just across the water from the Bahamas. Yet the only recorded sighting for the entire Bahamas is a single bird on South Cat Cay, Bimini. Anyway, here are some nice birds to look at, mostly from Central Park NYC and Prospect Park Brooklyn. If anyone sees the last bird in the series on Abaco or indeed anywhere else, can you kindly let me know?

Cygnet, Prospect Park BrooklynCygnet NYC

Brown Creeper, The Ramble, Central Park NYCBrown Creeper NYC

Blue Jays, Central Park NYCBlue Jays NYC

Black-capped Chickadee, The Ramble, Central ParkBlack-capped Chickadee NYCApologetic note: I find these little flickery birds very hard to photograph. They are specially trained to move at all times and to get behind twigs & branches the minute they see a camera

Tufted Titmouse Central Park NYCTufted Titmouse 3 NYC

White-throated Sparrow, Prospect Park BrooklynWhite-throated Sparrow NYC

Mute Swan, Prospect Park BrooklynSwan 2 NYC

Raphus cucullatus (Dodo), American Museum of Natural HistoryDodo NYC

There’s one of these in the Natural History Museum in London; also in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (parts of one, anyway). Where else in the world, I wonder?

 Normal Abaco Service will be restored in a few days… RH

ABACO BIRDS YOU CAN SEE IN THE BIG APPLE…


Red-tailed Hawk Central Park NYC

ABACO BIRDS YOU CAN SEE IN THE BIG APPLE…

Big Apple, here we come! Mrs RH has business there next week. Sometimes, if I have behaved particularly well for an extended period – 2 years on average – I am invited to go along on her US trips. Providing I can grab a cheap fare as well. Well, sorted! NYC is my absolutely favourite capital city. Along with Marsh Harbour, obvs. And maybe Paris. Not London, we live there. Too close to home. 

Northern Mockingbird, High Line, NYCNorthern Mockingbird NYC High Line

I never go shopping, but I have specific must-dos. Route 66 on 9th for the best breakfast ever. Walking the wonderful new High Line park, extended since we were last there. The Staten Island Ferry out and straight back for the best free ‘Manhattan view plus water ride’ experience. The Tramway cable car to Roosevelt Island to visit the beautifully restored Blackwell Farmhouse which dates from 1796 and is arguably NYC’s oldest surviving residential building (not many people know this). Then a brisk walk to Lighthouse Point for a winter picnic. This is where, one day, I plan to catch a fish – any fish – on the fly in the East River. I’ve debated packing a small travel rod & reel this time but it is not an ideal time of year, frankly, and I don’t want to set myself up for failure in what will anyway be a hard task…

A Herring Gull provides irrefutable proof that there is piscine life in the East River even in winter
Life in the East River NY

Mallards in Central park: a male and a LEUCISTIC femaleMallard (m) NYC Central Park Mallard (f) - leucistic NYC Central Park

And to people’s complete bemusement (sample comment: “Are you quite mad?”) I go birding. NYC is a great place for it, being on a major migration flyway. Central Park is fantastic, especially the Ramble, the Reservoir, and the lesser known wild areas at the top end – the Loch, the Ravine, Harlem Meer. Prospect Park Brooklyn is another great place, with wild woodland and lakes for many water bird species. There’s a wildlife refuge at Jamaica Bay which looks worth exploring too, though it’s a bit of a trek. Anyway, here are a few Big Apple birds that are found on – or at least recorded for – Abaco (some very rarely, it has to be said).

Ring-billed and Herring Gulls on the Staten Island FerryRing-billed Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry Ring-billed Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC 2 Staten Island FerryHerring Gull NYC Staten Island Ferry

Male & female Hooded Mergansers on the JKO Reservoir, Central ParkHooded Merganser (m) NYC JKO Reservoir Hooded Merganser (f) 2 NYC JKO Reservoir

Male House Sparrow (Central Park) & female (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)House Sparrow NYC Central Park House Sparrow (f) NYC Prospect Park

Rock Pigeon, Central ParkRock Pigeon NYC

Eurasian Starling (High Line Park)Starling NYC High Line Park

Canada Goose on ice (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Canada Goose NYC Prospect Park

American Robin (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)American Robin NYC Prospect Park

Poor photo of a Coot (Harlem Meer, Central park)Coot NYC Central Park Harlem Meer

Ultra-shy Red-winged Blackbird (Prospect Park, Brooklyn)Red-winged Blackbird NYC Prospect ParkI can only get away with crap photos like this because it’s my blog & your decision to put up with it

Bufflehead, JKO Reservoir Central ParkBufflehead NYC JKO Reservoir Central ParkA bird recorded once or perhaps twice for Abaco in the last 60 years. I have better photos than this, but this one best illustrates your chance of seeing one on Abaco – vanishing…

Hairy** Red-bellied Woodpecker (The Ramble, Central Park)Hairy Woodpecker NYC The Ramble Central Park

Red-tailed Hawk NYC (Prospect Park Brooklyn)Red-tailed Hawk NYC Prospect Park BrooklynThe RTH header image was taken in the Ramble, Central Park

** As Woody Bracey has been quick to point out, this is in fact a Red-bellied Woodpecker, not a Hairy Woodpecker. Unlike the HWP, the RBW is not recorded for Abaco. HOWEVER I do have a HWP photo from Central Park somewhere, and if I can find it I’ll substitute it and make it right!

All photos, good, bad and indifferent: The Author

THE BAHAMA WOODSTAR NEST: A CHRISTMAS STORY FOR A NEW YEAR


Bahama Woodstar (f), Abaco (Charmaine Albury)THE BAHAMA WOODSTAR NEST: A CHRISTMAS STORY FOR THE NEW YEAR

And it came to pass that on the first day of December in the Year of Our Lord 2015, the time came upon a mother hummingbird; and she laid her tiny egg in a small nest in the place that is called Man-o-war, which is to say ‘The Island of Pretty Birds”. And on the next day, she laid a second tiny egg in that nest also. For this was in the time of the first Woodstar nesting of the season.

Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

And the days passed, even as the mother hummingbird sat upon the nest whereat she had laid her eggs. And verily was she patient, for it was known to her that the eggs would not hatch until certain days were past

Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

Yet still the eggs hatched not, though their colour became paler…Bahama Woodstar nest with eggs, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

But on the 19th day hatched the first egg; and likewise the second egg upon the 21st day. And two (mostly) naked hatchlings were made visible.Bahama Woodstar nest with hatchlings, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

On the 25th day, which is to say the day of Christ’s Mass, the hatchlings had grown; and their raiment of feathers was coming upon them to clothe their nakednessBahama Woodstar nest with hatchlings, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

And as they grew the chicks (for thus were they named) were snug and safe in their small nest, even as their mother and their father, who did build it together and furnish it with soft materials, had ordained

1170953_10207164189916859_1353675663828625458_n

By the 31st and final day of the old year, which is to say the day before Earth’s renewal in another year, the chicks had greatly grown; and feathers were about their persons. And their appearance was of small birds which would soon fly from that place and live happily in a New Year at Man-o-warBahama Woodstar nest with chicks, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)-1

Thanks for all fabulous photos to Charmaine Albury, who is lucky enough to be a Woodstar magnet on Man-o-War Cay. With her family, she watches these events unfold every year at her house, and manages to record them without ever disturbing these wonderful little birds