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

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO


Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4

A RARE SPOONBILL VISITS GILPIN POND, ABACO

In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3

GILPIN POINT LOCATION

Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3

WHAT SPECIES MIGHT BE FOUND AT GILPIN?

A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett
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Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)


Artocarpus altilis - breadfruit (Hans Hillewaert)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)

Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of breadfruit (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population.Breadfruit 2

Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required compared to their own meagre rations – and threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for the mutiny. 

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (Robert Dodd)

This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…

Mutiny_on_the_Bounty_Poster (1935)     220px-Poster_for_Mutiny_on_the_Bounty

Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk, yet finally he succeeded, only for those on the eating end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and its culinary versatility was only discovered many decades later. By which time slavery had thankfully been abolished anyway.Breadfruit image (Pacific site)

The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town (Elbow Cay). I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree; and of course the tree itself.

Breadfruit Tree Notice, Hope Town Abaco (Dp PatersonBreadfruit Tree, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.

For those unfamiliar with the fruit and its interior, here it is in both slice and cross-sectionBreadfruit sliced (US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center)

BREADFRUIT IN ART

Breadfruit has received artistic recognition over the years. Here are some examples – the first, very jolly (and an early representation of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly, I think); the second, quite dull; the third, instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth, frankly not at all appetising to look at…

Breadfruit with butterflies (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)Breadfruit (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

                                 Breadfruit (John Frederick Miller)                                  Breadfruit drawing  John Frederick Miller

      Breadfruit & related plants used as food (William Rhind (1841)     Breadfruit etc William Rhind (1841)

Breadfruit - Bahamas Stamp

WORLD DISTRIBUTION OF BREADFRUIT

Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – you will soon find yourself alone…Breadfruit - the world propagation range

A CULINARY TREAT

Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and untasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that…

Breadfruit Recipe  (myrecipefriends.com)

BAKED BREADFRUIT

Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon

Heat oven to 33 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

A PERFECT HOPE TOWN BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

This post was inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, who will be known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice. If you do visit this delightful little town, the museum is a treasure house of Abaconian history that deserves a visit. You can check out its website HERE and the FB page HERE.

Wyannie Malone Museum Crest, Hope Town, Abaco

Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him, and continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of  ships. He ended up a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.

V-A William Bligh (1814)Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London (Geograph, Commons Media

HMS BOUNTY II (Full Sails). A 1960 reconstruction (Dan Kasberger)HMS_BOUNTY_II_Full_Sails 1960 reconsrtuction (Dan Kasberger)

Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…

PAN’S LABYRINTH, DAN’S CAVE: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND WORLD (5)


Dan's Cave, Abaco Bahamas (Brian Kakuk)

                                  PAN’S LABYRINTH, DAN’S CAVE                                      ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND WORLD (5)

June brought news of a wonderful exploration of a near-inaccessible part of the Dan’s Cave complex in South Abaco, deep under the acres of pine forest. The expedition involved Brian Kakuk, Steve Bogaerts, Hp Hartmann, and a ‘Razor’ sidemount camera.  As Steve later wrote, “…I had the privilege to film probably the most beautiful caves in the world and to take my camera to places where nobody else has filmed before. Special thanks to Brian Kakuk to make this video happen”.

Brian’s account of his first exploration of Pan’s Labyrinth in 2010 (link below, scroll down the page you reach) is extraordinary. The difficulties faced in negotiating the narrowest of passages while carrying essential equipment makes for tense reading…

The cave systems of South Abaco within the proposed protected areaAbaco caves map jpg Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

A VISIT TO BIMINI’S MARINE ENVIRONMENT (1)


Loggerhead Hatchling Bimini BMPAC

Loggerhead Hatchling (Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign)

A VISIT TO BIMINI’S MARINE ENVIRONMENT (1)

Abaco is fortunate already to have special conservation areas, both on land (e.g. the huge National Park) and at sea (e.g. Fowl Cay Marine Preserve). Other preserves are in active stages of development. Elsewhere in the Bahamas, where the natural life is equally wonderful, battles are being fought to protect pristine habitat from the encroachments of modern life such as unsuitable development (or development in unsuitable locations). For this first look at Bimini, I am most grateful to Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign  for permission to use some of their wonderful photographic archive that illustrates the vital importance of the mangroves, reefs, sea grass and pristine sea to marine life large and small. It’s worth checking out the background and surrounding context of these images to see the sort of habitat the creatures depicted prefer. This post features some of the larger species.

HAMMERHEAD SHARKS

Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson/ 60 Pound Bullet)Hammerhead Sharks 3 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Hammerhead Shark 2 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Hammerhead Shark 4 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

NURSE SHARK NURSERY IN THE MANGROVES

Nurse Sharks Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Nurse Shark BMPAC

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS

Dolphin 2 Bimini's Marine Protected Area CampaignDolphin Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

RAYS

A pregnant female southern stingray, seen from belowSouthern Stingray (pregnant) Bimini's Marine Protected Area CampaignRay, Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign Ray, Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

HAWKSBILL TURTLES

Turtle in Mangroves Bimini's Marine Protected Area CampaignHawkshead Turtle 2 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

CREDITS: Bimini’s Marine Protected Area Campaign with many thanks for use permission of their material including images © Grant Jonson / 60 Pound Bullet Photography, and to all other photographers featured. Overall, cheers to Bimini, wildlife and conservation…

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE (2) PRESENT & FUTURE


Winslow Homer G W Original Brooklyn

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE (2) PRESENT & FUTURE

Following on from my post last month HOLE-IN-THE WALL: THE PAST, it’s time to take a closer look at the ‘Gap-in-the-Wall’ as it is today, viewed from the sea. I’ve called this a ‘unique perspective’, but I’m sure many people have taken photos of HITW from the sea. It just that apart from a few kayaking ones from before the collapse of the arch, I haven’t found them. So I took some, thanks to the BMMRO and their research RHIB. 

Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 01 Location photo map

The view above is taken from some way to the west of HITW, and I have marked the main features that will be shown in this post. As one approaches the promontory, the lighthouse and its outbuildings are the only sign of human intervention to be seen in the landscape. Historically there were small settlements in this remote place, and some traces of these remain.

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (sea view)

Closing in on the former ‘Hole’, fresh damage from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of the arch is still visible. It is more conspicuous on the other side.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 03 Collapsed arch (Hurricane Sandy)

In this photo, you can follow the features from the lighthouse to the foreshortened promontory, the new gap, the small islet that now exists, and finally a small eroded outcrop of rock – the remains of an extension of the mainland, and probably evidencing the southern tip of another arch that collapsed centuries ago.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 04 Light, hole and outcrop

Passing the outcrop and round to the east side of the promontory, further evidence of fresh damage can be seen, with the main shear being on the north side of the arch.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 05 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 09Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 07Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 10

There’s a fine view of the lighthouse from the east Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 11

As we started the return journey to Sandy Point via groups of whales and dolphins, we went close to the outcrop, land’s end (next stop, Nassau). Even on a calm day, it is still thrashed by waves, as the second photo shows: no wonder it has eroded so quickly…  See how it looked in the 1803 aquatint below, from which one can see how there must have once been an even larger ‘hole in the wall’ way back in history and long since collapsed even by then. Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 12 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 13Hole in the Wall Print 1803

Then it was time to move on, having been fortunate enough to see the location from an entirely new angleHole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 14Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 15

THE FUTURE

The geological future of the Hole-in the-Wall landscape is presumably that erosion and rising sea levels will sink the outcrop below the waves; the islet left after the collapse of the arch will similarly erode over the centuries, as in time will the whole promontory. Maybe as it gets thinner, another hole will be worn through by the waves. The restoration of the lighthouse, long promised, may perhaps take place. The nautical importance of the area suggests that the historic need for a light as both landmark and warning will continue. And who knows: even now, plans for wholesale redevelopment of the area could be on a drawing board somewhere…

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Notice) hitw9

WINSLOW HOMER

The header image is the well-known watercolour by Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910), the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum. It was painted in 1885 and is entitled ‘Glass Windows’. This is commonly claimed to be the famous ‘Glass Window’ feature on Eleuthera. However my own theory is that it in fact depicts Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco. There are a number of good reasons for this, but the most immediately striking is the title Homer himself gave to an engraving of the identical view, published in The Century magazine (Feb 1887). This engraving pre-dates, and was clearly the template for, the watercolour. The rock structure and even the cloud formations are identical. And the title “On Abaco Island” seems conclusive of the location.

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

Credits: All photos, RH; Winslow Homer painting, Brooklyn Museum online archive

‘RALPH’S OLD BAT’: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (5)


Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 4

‘RALPH’S OLD BAT’: ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (5)

It’s time to revisit the wonderful caves that lie below the landmass of Abaco. Unknown to many, there are parts of the island where below your feet are huge networks of caves and tunnels packed with beautiful crystal and mystery. I lack any of the necessary qualifications to explore these for myself (some serious equipment including camera, ability to swim properly, and courage) but thanks to diving exert Brian Kakuk, my own deficiencies are irrelevant…

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 3

Two caves in particular, Ralph’s and Dan’s, are rich in exotic crystals, stalactites and stalagmites. They can be found close to each other on South Abaco, deep in the pine forest. All images here are from Ralph’s cave, one of several cave / blue hole complexes that are soon to form part of the South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (boundaries shown in fig. 1). Rolling Harbour (where the Delphi Club is situated) is the curved bay to the bottom right corner, under the acronym GEBCO

Abaco caves map jpg Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Apart from the amazing sight of the cave chambers themselves, the details of the crystal formations – often geometric -are remarkable close-to. Here are 3 examples that demonstrate how they range from strong-looking structures formed over millennia to the most delicate forms such as in the third image that appear to be made from fine fabric.

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 1 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 2 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 5

And if you wondering about the title of this post, this is the reason: Brian discovered a bat, believed to be at least 13,000 years old, entombed in crystal – not so much a fossilised bat as a crystallised bat… In other caves (at the Sawmill Sink blue hole for example), fossilised bones have been found, including of a prehistoric species of crocodile that must have lived on the island many thousands of years ago. This is the first crystallised creature I have ever seen… I am checking with Brian whether he has seen anything else quite like it during his explorations.

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 6 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 7

Credits: all images by Brian Kakuk, with thanks as ever for use permission; all crystal by magic; preserved bat by gradual accretion