BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS: BOOK REVIEW


Birds of San Salvador (cover) JPG

THE BIRDS OF SAN SALVADOR, BAHAMAS

  • Authors: R. Hays Cummins, Mark R. Boardman, Mark L. McPhail
  • Published 1 Jan 2013, 132pp with 400+ images covering 54 species
  • Available spiral bound for $29.95 on Am@zon; and a steal at $3.16 for Kindle (£5.99 in the UK)
  • STOP PRESS Also available on iTunes for iPhone / iPad, where I imagine it looks great. Once downloaded, author Hays says it can be viewed on a Mac, certainly if you have the latest OS X Mavericks. UK price: a very modest £1.99 (= $3.30)

Within a couple of weeks of the decision to use Tom Sheley’s wonderful Bahama Woodstar as the ‘cover bird’ for “THE BIRDS OF ABACO”, another Bahamas bird book was announced. The same colourful and enchanting endemic bird had also commended itself to the authors for their cover. I wrote to Hays Cummins at once to check whether he would mind another Bahamas bird book encroaching on the territory, especially one using the same cover bird into the bargain. He very charmingly said it would be fine and declared his support for our (luckily) rather different project.

It’s been a while since I added to the section BOOKS, but I thought I’d mention this one for two reasons. First, it is described as ‘A Photo Essay of Common Birds’, which in practical terms means that most if not all of the species featured will be common to the northern Bahamas and therefore familiar on Abaco. Secondly, I very much like the format of the book: there are clear photos; and all necessary general information including notes on individual characteristics and similar species is presented in an easily assimilable way. Were the Delphi book not designed to be the 2 kg bird-showcasing non-field guide doorstop it is, the San Salvador book is one I should liked to have produced! Birds of San Salvador (sample page 1) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 2) DESCRIPTION “This enchanting book addresses a need for an important audience, the budding naturalist, which many of our students are. Without fanfare and pomposity, the book presents beautiful and inspiring photos and lively discussion, but does not indulge in the details of the accomplished birder. The authors present information about the natural history of birds on San Salvador, Bahamas, not through the eyes of a professional or advanced birder, but through the eyes and photographic lenses of inquiring educators and naturalists. This book will help capture and catalyze the interests of aspiring birders and will be an asset for introductions to the birds of the Bahamas and neighboring Caribbean. Over 400 images, representing 54 species, are all original and include a variety of behaviors and highlight recognition characteristics. The authors’ aesthetic photography, printed on high quality paper, will help reinforce identification and enjoyment. Birds are organized by habitat (Coastal, Interior, and Lakes & Ponds), not by taxonomic affinities. A taxonomic index is included.” 

I’m pleased to see the decision to depart from the usual taxonomic ordering of species, though I recognise that for a serious field guide that tradition is pretty much sacrosanct. We played around with categories and sub-categories a bit (sea birds, water birds, land birds; big, medium, small; cute, splendid, dull, plug-ugly) before settling on Peter Mantle’s excellent idea of straight alphabetical organisation. For a mainly photographic book this gives an element of surprise to turning the pages, and avoids  e.g. 37 pages of warblers species, mostly yellow, all huddled together.  Birds of San Salvador (sample page 4) Birds of San Salvador (sample page 5) I notice that there is a single Amazon review, a good one, that says “This guide to one of the lesser known islands in the Bahamas is a nice one. While not exhaustive, it covers most of the species likely to be seen on San Salvador. The style is unorthodox for a field guide (elements of humor, gives brief description of species, but no real key field marks), the descriptions, locations on the island, and behaviors make this guide useful for those visiting San Salvador. The photographs are excellent.” Birds of San Salvador (sample page 3)For anyone interested in a useful reference guide to the common birds of Abaco, and in possession of a Kindle, this book is easily worth getting electronically.  ‘To be brutally honest’ (™ Sandy Walker), I’d like in due course to produce a small book very like this for Abaco, but it would obviously be naked plagiarism to do that, so of course I won’t. Still, all the same…

SMALL SHELLS FROM CASUARINA, ABACO


Abaco Shell 3b

SMALL SHELLS FROM CASUARINA, ABACO

Abaco Shell 1Abaco Shell 4Abaco Shell 2Abaco Shell 5Abaco Shell 6

The shell species below (also in the header picture) is an olive. It turns out to have potential to star in a small maritime horror movie. Capt Rick Guest, who kindly keeps an eye on my shell and other sea-related posts, writes “Interestingly, the previous occupant of the first and last shell pictured here is a major predator of the other Bivalve shells shown. The Olive shell hides under the sand by day, then emerges at night to feast upon small Bivalves, and any other available prey. One can often trace the nocturnal trails of this Olive shell in sand on calm mornings with mask and snorkel, and thrust a hand under a trails end for this fellow. When kept in an aquarium, they will consume any meat offered.” “Olive and Let Die”, maybe?Abaco Shell 3aAbaco Shell 7

SHORE THINGS: BEACHCOMBING ON A PRISTINE ABACO BEACH


Shore Things 16

SHORE THINGS: BEACHCOMBING ON A PRISTINE ABACO BEACH

The Abaco bay known as Rolling Harbour is a 3/4 mile curve of white sand beach, protected by an off-shore reef. The beach is pristine. Or it would be but for two factors. One is the seaweed that arrives when the wind is from the east – natural and biodegradable detritus. It provides food and camouflage for many species of shorebird – plover and sandpipers of all varieties from large to least. The second – far less easily dealt with – is the inevitable plastic junk washed up on every tide. This has to be collected up and ‘binned’, a never-ending cycle of plastic trash disposal. Except for the ATLAS V SPACE-ROCKET FAIRING found on the beach, that came from the Mars ‘Curiosity’ launch. Sandy's Mystery Object

We kept is as a… curiosity, until it was eventually removed by the men in black…

Shore Things 14I’d intended to have a ‘plastic beach trash’, Atlantic-gyre-rage rant, with angry / sad photos to match. Instead, I decided to illustrate a more positive side to beach life – things you may discover when you take a closer look at the sand under your feet. Like the coconut above. Many of these photos were taken by our friend Clare Latimer (to whom thanks for use permission); some by me.

Shore Things 13A LONE FLOWERShore Things 17SEA STAR (DEFUNCT), WITH CRAB TRACKSShore Things 21SEA FAN (GORGONIAN)Shore Things 15WASHED-UP BOTTLE (PROBABLY NOT RUM)Shore Things 12

SEA BISCUITSShore Things 9

Thanks to Capt Rick Guest, who has contributed an interesting comment regarding the sea biscuit with a hole in it. He writes “the (Meoma) Sea Biscuit w/ the hole in it was dined upon by a Helmet Conch. The Cassis madagascariensis, or C.tuberosa drills the hole w/ its conveyer-belt-like radula teeth w/ some help from its acidic, saliva. Probably 98% of all symetrical holes in marine invertebrates are of this nature. Murex, Naticas, Helmets, and many Cephalapods (via a Stylet), are the usual B&E suspects. The Cone shells utilize a modified radula in the form of a harpoon which is attached to a venom tube.” For more on the vicious cone shell, and other creatures to avoid, click HERE

DRIFTWOOD. IT’S LIKE… OH, USE YOUR IMAGINATIONShore Things 5A WILSON’S PLOVER NESTShore Things 11HORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)Shore Things 4SCULPTURE? AN EMBRYONIC SHELTER? Shore Things 3LARGE BIRD FOOTPRINTSShore Things 18MORE BIRD PRINTS AND CRAB TRACKSShore Things 19 CRABUS CUTICUSShore Things 6CONCH SHELLS & OTHER BEACH TREASURESShore Things 8Shore Things 20CRAB HOLE & TRACKSShore Things 22SOME IDIOT’S LEFT HIS… OH! IT’S MINEShore Things 7

‘BEAUTY & THE BEACH': A CLOSE LOOK AT ABACO SHELLS


Abaco seashell 11

‘BEAUTY & THE BEACH': A CLOSE LOOK AT SOME ABACO SHELLS

Abaco seashell 10Abaco seashell 7bAbaco seashell 6bAbaco seashell 3bAbaco seashell 2bAbaco seashell 1bAbaco seashell 4bAbaco Shells 12bAbaco seashell 5bAnd to end with, not a shell but a somewhat unattractive head shot…Abaco seashell 9b

BEAUTY PARADE

Abaco seashell 7aAbaco seashell 6aAbaco seashell 3aAbaco seashell 4aAbaco Shells 12 aAbaco seashell 5a

UGLY BUG BALL…

Can anyone ID this? It’s not what I thought… *later* yes they can! See comments for the debateAbaco seashell 9b

Skull 2

All shells – & the spider crab carapace – collected from the beach at Casuarina

BEACHCOMBING: AN INVASION OF BEADS AT ROLLING HARBOUR


DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

BEACHCOMBING: A BEAD INVASION AT ROLLING HARBOUR

The Delphi Club beach at Rolling Harbour is an undeniably beautiful 3/4 mile curve of white-sand bay, shelving gently into pale blue water. Many interesting things get washed up on the shore, besides shells, sea glass, and vast quantities of seaweed (with a fair amount of junk) that must be regularly cleared. It’s a good place for desultory beachcombing, and some of the finds have featured in earlier posts, with the help of KASIA

Delphi Club, Rolling Harbour, Abaco

Of course that is not in the least unusual in these parts, though Delphi can claim the unique distinction of a 12 foot booster rocket fairing from the Mars ‘Curiosity’ launch, washed up early in 2012 (see short posts on the developing story at ONE & TWO & THREE)

Sandy's Mystery Object

There are large glass and wooden floats. Things that might be car parts. Wooden pallets. Not, as yet, any of the yellow plastic ducks so often written about (see book review of MOBY DUCK). Now, we have an invasion of coloured beads. 2012 has been a prime year for bead beachcombing, a specialist field. At times, guests have had a field day (if you can have one of those on a beach?) collecting these small beads. One large flagon has already been filled and, as Peter Mantle observes, “our cup runneth over”.

An important Christmas task – and not a difficult one, I envisage – will be to empty another suitably large vessel. Drinking is likely to be involved. Meanwhile, an explanation for this beach bead influx over many months would be good to find. A container of children’s toys sadly washed overboard? Evidence of some arcane fishing method? An explosion in a necklace factory? Beads deemed unsuitable for rosaries? Rejects from the World Marbles Convention? Has anyone else experienced finding these multicoloured beads on their local beaches? I know that a few beachcombers follow this blog (thanks!) from other parts of the world. Any beads? All contributions by way of the COMMENT link, or an email to rolling harbour.delphi[at]gmail.com, welcome.

Some of the beads collected during the year – another container needed urgently
Beachcombing Beads

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS & SHELLS: COLOURFUL GASTROPODS OF THE CARIBBEAN


FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS & SHELLS: COLOURFUL GASTROPODS OF THE CARIBBEAN

AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS POST WITH NEW IMAGES AND MATERIAL (AS WELL AS A RETREAD OF SOME OF THIS POST) WAS POSTED IN NOVEMBER 2014 AND CAN BE FOUND HERE

The FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL Cyphoma gibbosum is a small sea snail (marine gastropod mollusc), related to cowries. The live animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour is only in the ‘live’ parts – the shell itself is pale and characterised by  a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are easy to identify.

This snail on the left (thanks, Wiki) is snacking on a coral stem, leaving a feeding track behind it. The structural shell ridge is clearly visible beneath the distinctively marked live tissue.

The flamingo tongue feeds by browsing on soft corals. Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore predation by C. gibbosum is generally not harmful to the coral.

The principal purpose of the mantle of  tissue over the shell is as the creature’s breathing apparatus.  The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As I have seen it described (unkindly?) “it’s basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”. 

This species was once common but is becoming rarer. One significant threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly think that the colour is the shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch, and in due course are left with… (see photos below)

These photos are of flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I thought everyone thought they were rather lovely… you decide!

Finally, a couple of videos. The first is rather charmingly titled ‘FLAMINGO TONGUES DOING…. SOMETHING’. Any (printable but amusing) suggestions via the Comment box are welcome (Hi Trish!). The second punchily summarises this post. Maybe that’s all that was needed!

TULIP SHELLS & SUNRISE TELLINS: MORE BEACHCOMBING TREASURES FROM ABACO


TULIP SHELLS & SUNRISE TELLINS: MORE SHELL TREASURES FROM ABACO

Here are two contrasting shells from the Delphi Club collection that has been haphazardly accumulated over the last 3 years or so. The first post in this shell series was about SEA URCHINS & SEA BISCUITS

TULIP SHELLS Fasciolaria tulipa

The term ‘Tulip snail’  includes 3 related species of sub-tropical gastropod worldwide, of the genus Fasciolaria. They are medium-sized predatory molluscs that breed throughout the year in warm waters. Their reproductive lives deserve some attention, if they will pardon the intrusion. 

Research by the Smithsonian Marine Station Fl. reveals that the male’s penis is to be found on the right side of its body, directly behind its head… When they mate the (larger) female stays in an upright position on the sand while the male ‘flips over’ to align the apertures of both shells, before inserting the penis into the female (RH comment: the research is not specific about precisely where the female keeps her own genitals). Once joined, snail pairs may remain locked together for up to 2 hours, even when being watched by researchers. They have plenty of stamina: mating may occur several times in one season, and individual tulip snails have been observed to mate up to 3 times in a single week. Respect!

SUNRISE TELLINS Tellina Radiata

I included these pretty shells, with their striking pink radials, in an earlier post BEACHCOMBING BIVALVES The ones shown here are larger specimens. The hinges (muscles) are very delicate, and in these shells the two halves of the shells have separated. STs are not uncommon, but these are the largest I have come across (I realised after I had taken the photos that I should have used a coin for comparison…). They grow up to about 7 cms, and  these ones were that length, or very nearly so.

I can’t assist with their sex lives I’m afraid, which may well be completely conventional, dull even. However, as I discovered when I previously researched these shells,  “in most countries it is illegal to bring back these shells from holidays”. To which I can only repeat my comment: Whoops!