BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: NEW SUBSPECIES FOR ABACO?

[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ

BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS (2): MOTHER & CALF


Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas 12

Sometimes things happen that completely take my breath away. Here is one of those moments, from our recent trip with Charlotte and Diane in the BMMRO research boat. As we returned from whale-watching to base in Sandy Point and moved from the deep dark ocean to the bright blue shallows, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins. You can see my recent post featuring some of the adults HERE. That was exciting enough, as they played around the boat. Then another participant appeared… 

 Notice the dark area behind the adult dolphin… Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…which soon separated into a small dark splashing creature with its own fin cutting the waves…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

…and next seen keeping pace with its parentDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

The sharp line between the light and the dark sea is where the sandy shallows abruptly give way to the deep waters of the Grand Bahama Canyon, a massive trench up to 2.5 miles deep with almost vertical cliff walls to the depths in some places

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

There were less active and splashy moments as the pair swam around togetherDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then it was back to doing what they like best…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, BahamasDolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

Then some more restful moments…Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And finally the pair moved away. On the far horizon, the Massive Mickey Mouse Cruise ship moored at ‘Disney’s Castaway Cay’ (formerly the sober-sounding Gorda Cay), where you can be a Pirate of the Caribbean. Or anyway a very happy Tourist. The choice is yours. Would you like fries with that?Dolphin Mother & Calf, Sandy Point, Abaco, Bahamas

And looking out to sea from the cheerful place that is Castaway Cay, I wonder if a small child was wondering “Ok, love Mickey and his Friends – but I’d also really love to see a wild dolphin swimming free… 

Disney Magic docked next to the Castaway Cay Family Beach copy

All photos RH (except Castaway, Wiki). Huge thanks to Charlotte, Diane and Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO for a truly wonderful day photo 2

bmmro_logo

THE SWIMMING PIGS OF ABACO (THEY CAN’T FLY YET…)


Pig at No Name Cay, Abaco (Tripadvisor on Pinterest)

THE SWIMMING PIGS OF ABACO (THEY CAN’T FLY YET…)

Many or most people with a Bahamian interest are familiar with the swimming feral pigs of the Exumas. They deservedly receive quite a lot of publicity, being (a) demonstrably porcine yet (b) inherently *adorbz* and (c) keen swimmers. A better kept secret is that there are swimming pigs on Abaco. Like these ones for example…

Swimming Pigs - Abaco, Bahamas (Vorobek / Wiki)

Where, you may ask. And the correct answer is that the location has no name though, as a logical paradox, it has one. No Name Cay is a name to conjure with. It is a small uninhabited Cay south of Green Turtle Cay, where pigs can swim and people can play with them. And did I mention the piglets?

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These great shots were posted by the indispensable Albury’s Ferry Services, without whom inter-island travel would be problematic, to say the least. They always have a good eye for a picture to post or a topical theme to run with, and this is no exception. Check out their FB page HERE.

Swimming Pigs of No Name Cay, Abaco (Albury's ferry Services, photographer unknown)Swimming Pigs of No Name Cay, Abaco (Albury's ferry Services, photographer unknown) Swimming Pigs of No Name Cay, Abaco (Albury's ferry Services, photographer unknown) Swimming Pigs of No Name Cay, Abaco (Albury's ferry Services, photographer unknown) Swimming Pigs of No Name Cay, Abaco (Albury's ferry Services, photographer unknown) Swimming Pigs of No Name Cay, Abaco (Albury's ferry Services, photographer unknown)

Once one gets started with these creatures, it’s hard to stop. Here  are 2 contented pigs instagramed and posted on FB recently with the caption “The piggies didn’t go hungry today…”. 

IMG_8601

Before I get completely carried away, here is a video posted by well-known Abaconian Dr Ralph, in which you can enjoy seeing some active swimming. ‘Porky stroke’, I guess.

Oooiiinkkkk! Sorry. Posted the wrong vid. Can’t correct until reunited with my computer…  See the pigs on land in the meanwhile…

Credits: Tripadvisor via Pinterest; Vorobek via Wiki; Albury’s ferry Services (photographers unknown, but cheers for these shots!); Alexa Pepe / Clinton Adderly (with apologies for assuming use permission as they are already ‘out there’ for anyone to see…); Dr Ralph for the video

ABACO ROAD TRIP: CHEROKEE SOUND


ABACO ROAD TRIP: CHEROKEE SOUND

A Guest Post by Amanda Diedrick of GTC – check out 

“Several years back, on a family road trip to the south end of the Abaco mainland, we took a quick swing through the settlement of Cherokee Sound. Though our stop was brief, I was enchanted by the beauty of the tiny town and its breathtaking beach.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound, marsh harbour

Earlier this year, I finally got the chance to get back to Cherokee. I spent an afternoon wandering through this small fishing village that, by comparison, makes sedate Green Turtle Cay seem like a lively metropolis.

Similar to Green Turtle, Cherokee was originally settled by Loyalist descendants who supported their families by fishing or building boats. Today, fewer than 200 residents — most of whom commute to other parts of Abaco for work — call Cherokee Sound home.

Though Cherokee’s streets were virtually deserted on the hot June afternoon I visited, I did spot a group of primary school students enjoying recess, and I met a few locals while photographing their quaint, colourful homes.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound

And then there’s that beach. That stunning, unspoiled beach. And jutting 700 feet out into the clear water, a beautiful old dock which, according to the sign posted nearby, is the longest wooden pier in the Bahamas.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound, pier Until a few decades ago, the only way into Cherokee Sound was by sea. And given the shallow waters surrounding the settlement, an extended pier was a necessity. These days, with a paved road connecting Cherokee to the rest of the Abaco mainland, the dock functions primarily as a tourist attraction.

Casuarina Old Jetty

The Old Jetty at Casuarina, Abaco – the pre-road shortcut to Cherokee (RH)

To get to Cherokee Sound from Marsh Harbour, head south on the main highway and turn left when you reach the sign below:

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound, pete's pub

Follow the winding road until it ends at Cherokee Sound. The drive from Marsh Harbour takes 30-45 minutes or so.

Cherokee Sound jpg

Between the highway and Cherokee, there are two key points of interest and they could not be more different. Pete’s Pub and Gallery is a rustic, off-the-grid, on-the-sand restaurant that serves up local seafood and stunning ocean views, while the Abaco Club at Winding Bay is a manicured beachfront resort with a spa and fitness center, full-size golf course and pro shop.

If it’s meal time or you’re in need of refreshments, I’d suggest stopping at Pete’s or the Abaco Club, as there are no restaurants in Cherokee Sound. Nor are there any hotels, though a quick online search reveals nearly a dozen vacation homes for rent in or near the village.

bahamas, abaco, cherokee sound

Below are a few of the photos I shot that afternoon. And if you’d like to know more about Cherokee Sound and its history, here’s a great article by Abaco Life editor, Jim Kerr.

ABACO’S FORGOTTEN LIGHTHOUSE: THE “OLD LIGHTHOUSE”, LITTLE HARBOUR


ABACO’S FORGOTTEN LIGHTHOUSE: THE “OLD LIGHTHOUSE”, LITTLE HARBOUR

Little Harbour Abaco, Aerial View -Simon Rodehn annotated

Little Harbour Abaco, Aerial View (Simon Rodehn)

There’s relatively little that a casual investigator can discover about the ruined lighthouse at Little Harbour, Abaco. This hurricane-damaged wreck is Abaco’s third and largely unknown light, after the icon on ELBOW REEF and the desolate but romantic HOLE-IN-THE-WALL that stands on the southern tip of Abaco, down 15 miles of dodgy track through the National Park. Two specific sources of information begin our tour of the “Old Lighthouse at Little Harbour.

Extract from ROWLETT LIGHTHOUSES OF THE BAHAMAS

“LITTLE HARBOUR Date unknown (station established 1889). Inactive. Ruins of a 1-story concrete keeper’s quarters, known locally as the “old lighthouse.” A modern steel framework tower carried an active light until it was blown over by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012; Trabas has Darlene Chisholm’s photo of the toppled light. A photo and a very distant view are available, and Bing has a satellite view. In an aerial view of the harbor, the light is on the peninsula at upper right. Located at the entrance to Little Harbour, about 25 km (15 mi) south of Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island. Accessible by a short walk to the end of the peninsula sheltering the harbor. Site open, tower closed. Site manager: unknown. ARLHS BAH-021; Admiralty J4576; NGA 11808.”

The “Old Lighthouse” – Little Harbour, Abaco

Abaco Escape  – Sandy Estabrook’s essential GUIDE TO THE ABACOS

Often overlooked is (or should we say was) the “Old Lighthouse” as it is called. It was established in 1889 at the entrance to of Little Harbour channel, the southern entrance to Abaco Sound. Once it was a manned light, with the lighthouse keeper and his wife being the only inhabitants of Little Harbour. Of course the keepers are long gone and so is most of the house. The light tower was converted to solar in modern times but was dealt a devastating blow by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Access is via a path which starts from the shoreline and winds up the hill through seagrapes and bush. Few people venture up here these days. If there is a big ocean swell running, walk down to the cliff top in front of the lighthouse, where you’ll find a blowhole known as the Dragon. Depending on swell height, it could be roaring, snorting and shooting out clouds of spray. Sandy Estabrook

Photos referenced by Rowlett  – see extract above

Note the steel frame tower on the right, a structure replacing the old light destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999; and itself toppled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012

A GALLERY OF RECENT IMAGES

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco, Patrick Shyu

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco, Patrick Shyu. The only interior shot I could find. Note the fallen steel tower (2012) (and seen from the outside below)

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco - Patrick Shyu

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco – Patrick Shyu

Little Harbour lighthouse Abaco - Darlene Chisholm

Little Harbour lighthouse Abaco, post Hurricane Sandy – Darlene Chisholm

Little Harbour Lighthouse Ruins, Abacos - MV Shingebiss

The Old Lighthouse ruins, taken during a cruise (MV Shingebiss)

LOCATION

In the header image, the location of the Light, looking very roughly north, is shown as a grey pimple on the eastern peninsula that forms the Little Harbour bay. There is no other building in this area. Below are some additional aerial maps showing the path to the Light and its relative remoteness. It is not covered in the wonderful book on Bahamas lighthouses by Annie Potts entitled “Last Lights” (2011, Fish House Press). I surmise that this small Light was more of a beacon to pinpoint the location of the entrance to Little Harbour, and perhaps to enable triangulation with the large lights at ELBOW REEF and HOLE-IN-THE-WALL.

Little Harbour Lighthouse 1 jpg copy

Little Harbour Lighthouse 2 jpg

An unusual aerial view of Little Harbour Lighthouse from the north, showing the path to it. You can see the ‘modern steel framework tower’ referred to in the ROWLETT entry above, replacing the original lighthouse tower destroyed by Hurricane Floyd and later toppled by Hurricane Sandy.

Little Harbour Lighthouse Marinas.com

Little Harbour lighthouse Marinas.com

Credits:  Simon Rodehn (LH aerial view – thanks again!), Rowlett’s Lighthouses, Sandy Estabrook / Abaco Escape, Wiki Map, Patrick Shyu, Darlene Chisholm, MV Shingbiss, marinas.com

ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING


ABACO: THE PERFECT PLACE FOR BAHAMAS BIRDING

I’ve  fairly very often mentioned the remarkable diversity of the bird species on Abaco. This small island has a wide variety of permanent resident species and the advantage of being on a primary migration route so that it has both winter and summer migratory visitors. Here’s an example of some of the species a visitor might reasonably expect to find during a day’s birding. This isn’t an ‘invented inventory’, easy though that would be to compile. It records a birding outing by Abaco visitor Susan Daughtrey, guided by the legendary Woody Bracey, with sightings of 53 species from A (baco Parrot) to Z (enaida Dove). Here are some of Susan’s photos of the birds she encountered. At the end is the full list of the 34 species she photographed.There’s nothing very rare – most of those shown are permanent residents (PR), breed on Abaco (B) and are commonly found (1). Hence the code* PR B 1. SR is for the 2 summer residents, I is for the introduced collared dove. The best ‘get’ is the Bahama Mockingbird (PR B 3), a bird mainly of the pine forests and not so easy to find.

ADDENDUM Susan has now sent me her complete record for a great day out in which 53 species were seen. The list shows the numbers seen for each species. I have had to reformat the list from the original to make it work in this blog. I have added links for the first bird, the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, which was recorded on Abaco for the first time in early June. Of the six seen at any one time to begin with (including at Delphi), the reported numbers dropped to 2, then 1. The latest news is an unconfirmed sighting of a single bird at Treasure Cay Golf Course.

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT Amazona leucocephala PR B 1

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK Chordeiles gundlachii SR 1Amazon (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD (ENDEMIC) Mimus gundlachii PR B 3Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA SWALLOW (ENDEMIC) Tachycineta cyaneoviridis PR B 1Bahama Swallow, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BAHAMA PINTAIL (WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL) Anas bahamensis PR B 1
Bahama (White-cheeked) Pintail, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER Polioptera caerulea PR B 1Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus PR B 1Cuban Pewee, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE Streptopelia decaocto  I PR B 1Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

HAIRY WOODPECKER Picoides villosus PR B 1Hairy Woodpecker, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1Least Tern, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD Tyrannus caudifasciatus PR B 1Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

MAGNIFICENT FRIGATEBIRD (female)  Fregata magnificens PR B 1Magnificent Frigatebird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1                                            Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-LEGGED THRUSH  Turdus plumbeus PR B 1Red-legged Thrush, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD Agelaius phoeniceus PR B 1Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SMOOTH-BILLED ANI Crotophaga ani PR B 1Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco (Susan Daughtrey)

THICK-BILLED VIREO Vireo crassirostris PR B 1
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WESTERN SPINDALIS Spindalis zena PR B 1Western Spindalis, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

WHITE-CROWNED PIGEON Patagioenas leucocephala PR B 1White-crowned Pigeon, Abaco  (Susan Daughtrey)

SUSAN’S LIST OF BIRDS PHOTOGRAPHED

SUSAN'S SPECIES jpg

SUSAN’S COMPLETE LIST FOR THE DAY – 53 SPECIES

To learn about Abaco’s latest new species the Black-bellied Whistling Duck click HERE & HERE

Susan's fuller list JPG

Credits: all photos, Susan Daughtrey; *the excellent birding code was devised by ornithologist Tony White with Woody Bracey

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, HOPE TOWN, ABACO: 150 YEARS OLD TODAY!


HT Lighthouse 1

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE ABACO: THE WORKS

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, as it is properly called, is 150 years old. It is the stripy icon of Abaco – and quite flashy as well. One of the last remaining kerosene-lit lighthouses in the world, it retains its mechanisms and fresnel lenses in remarkable condition, a tribute to the conservation lovingly devoted to the building. Below is a re-post of an article I wrote some time ago, with photos of some of the internal works and some facts and figures thrown in, There’s a big event in the lighthouse’s honour today – here’s the flyer for it. We’ve donated a signed copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for auction, and I hope it makes a few $$$$ for the cause.

photo copy

Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo     Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo    Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo

Hope Town Lighthouse, Abaco

Our visit to Elbow Cay was one part of our day’s Island Hopping / Reef Snorkelling expedition with Kay Politano. In Hope Town, while most of the party wandered round the streets (and shops…) Mrs RH took the boat across the harbour to the Hope Town Lighthouse. This must be the best known landmark of Abaco – ‘iconic’, perhaps, in the modern sense of the word. The weather on the day was pretty poor, with thick cloud and intermittent rain and drizzle. Which is a pity, because the photos would have looked even better with sunshine and blue sky… 

                                          All photos: Mrs Rolling Harbour


HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE FACTS

(CLICK  on Coordinates below for position and Hope Town info)

Location: Elbow Cay, port of Hope Town
Coordinates 26.539421°N 76.958840°W
Year first constructed: 1862
Year first lit: 1864
Construction: Masonry
Tower shape: Conical
Markings/Pattern: Red and white bands
Focal Height: 37 m (121 ft)
Original lens: First order Fresnel
Range: 23 nmi
Characteristic: Fl(5) 15s
Admiralty number: J4572
NGA number: 11800
ARLHS number: BAH-010

THE HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE is one of only three Manual Lighthouses left in the World. It has a spring mechanism that has to be hand cranked every few hours to maintain the sequence of five white flashes every 15 seconds. The lamp burns kerosene with a wick and mantle. The light is then focused as it passes through the optics of a first order (largest size) Fresnel lens which floats on a bed of mercury.

A FRESNEL LENS (pron. ‘Fray-nel’) is a type of lens originally developed by a French physicist Augustin-Jean Fresnel specifically for lighthouses.Compared to conventional bulky lenses, the Fresnel lens is much thinner, larger, and flatter, and captures more oblique light from a light source, thus allowing lighthouses to be visible over much greater distances. Fresnel’s lighthouse lenses ordinarily fell into six orders based on their focal length, first order being the largest (wiki-assist)

For some more images of this iconic – or do I mean symbolic (discuss) – building CLICK===>>> ILOVEHOPETOWN You’ll find that around half the images are of the lighthouse, internal and external. Then look at the colourful remainder. Then it’s a short step to the Facebook page and more info about this charming Cay

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society