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

ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)


ABACO’S ASTOUNDING UNDERGROUND CAVES (1)

Hitoshi Miho is a diver and photographer who takes amazing photographs of the underground caves he explores. These include some of the cave systems on Abaco, where he has recently accompanied renowned Abaco diver Brian Kakuk of the Bahamas Caves Research Foundation. In due course I hope to produce a page dedicated to the Caves and Blue Holes of Abaco including maps but that’s a project in the mind for now. Meantime, with Hitoshi’s kind permission, here are a few preliminary examples of his fabulous work that showcases the wondrous crystal palaces that lie deep beneath Abaco. 

Abaco Underwater Caves 1 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 2 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 3 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 4 (©Hitoshi Miho)Abaco Underwater Caves 5 (©Hitoshi Miho)

All images © Hitoshi Miho and displayed by kind permission

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO


Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 7

PHOTOGENIC ENDEMICS: BAHAMA YELLOWTHROATS ON ABACO

I’ve been keeping this little bird up my capacious avian-friendly sleeve for a while. In June we took a truck and headed for deep backcountry to the edge of the pine forests and beyond to see what we could find in the way of birdlife. Good choice – the answer was ‘plenty’.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 5

Among the birds we encountered were the endemic Bahama swallows, hairy woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, kingbirds, red-legged thrushes, red-winged blackbirds, western spindalises, tobacco doves, La Sagra’s flycatchers, crescent-eyed pewees with a nest and eggs, a wonderful ‘booming display’ by antillean nighthawks courting during an early evening fly hatch**… and Bahama yellowthroats Geothlypis rostrata.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 1

The illustrative photos are of poor quality, but rather than blame my camera (as I am only too ready to do), I plead ‘overexcitement’ in mitigation. Of the 4 endemic species on Abaco, this was the only one I’d never seen. There was a tweeting noise on the edge of an abandoned sugar cane field (above), followed by  some rustling… and out fluttered this bird, crossing the track right by us and landing quite close to inspect us. Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 2

This striking bird, with its Zorro mask and bright yellow body, is an endearing mix of shy and inquisitive. Only the males have the mask – the females are less colourful, though naturally equally interesting… Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8

Yellowthroats are responsive to pishing, and once lured from cover they may happily remain on low-to-medium height branches or on a shrub, watching you watching them.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 3

Their song is quite easily imitated, and that may also bring them into the open – a source of immense satisfaction to the amateur (me) if it works. Here’s an example, courtesy of my iPH@NE METHOD for bird recording. It’s the call at the start and the end.

The one we watched had plenty to sing about – it’s just a shame that my images are so poor, because in some you can see its tiny tongue. A bit too blurry, though, even by my own moderate standards for inclusion.Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 4

At a formative stage of this blog, I did a short post about the endemic Bahama Yellowthroat and its comparisons with the similar and better-known Common Yellowthroat, which is also found in the Bahamas. You can read it HERE. There’s a female shown, a video, and an unacknowledged debt to Wiki or similar source, I can’t help but notice…Bahama Yellowthroat Abaco 6

**ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS AND THE ‘BOOMING DISPLAY’

Common Nighthawk Photo “On summer evenings, keep an eye and an ear out for the male Nighthawk’s dramatic “booming” display flight. Flying at a height slightly above the treetops, he abruptly dives for the ground. As he peels out of his dive (sometimes just a few meters from the ground) he flexes his wings downward, and the air rushing across his wingtips makes a deep booming or whooshing sound, as if a racecar has just passed by. The dives may be directed at females, territorial intruders, and even people.” We found ourselves right in the middle of one of these astounding displays, with maybe 100 birds behaving exactly as described, often whooshing within inches of our heads. I’ll post some more about it in due course. Credits: Philip Simmons; All About Birds (Cornell Lab)

Toyota Truck, Abaco Backcountrygeothlypis_rostrata RANGE MAP

ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013 ON NOVEMBER 9: BE IN IT TO WIN IT!


ABACO KAYAK CHALLENGE 2013

kayak logo 2013

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

Friends of the Environment (Abaco) logo

Join Friends in support of the Abaco Cancer Society and Friends of the Environment for Abaco’s third annual Kayak Challenge on November 9th at Pete’s Pub in Little Harbour.

Pete's Pub

“Any craft you can paddle will be welcome, from kayaks, paddle boards and canoes – just no engines!  There will be 3 courses to choose from: 5 miles, 8 miles, or 13 miles that will take paddlers into and through the scenic Bight of Old Robinson, part of the proposed East Abaco Creeks National Park. Paddlers will be welcomed back with a Beach party at Pete’s Pub.” 

Pete’s Pub: “Thirst come, thirst served…”Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

THE THREE COURSES

5 Mile Course

5 mile paddle2013

8 Mile Course

8 mile2013

13 Mile Course

13 mile paddle2013

SUPPORT FRIENDS & BMMRO INTERN OSCAR WARD AS HE NEGOTIATES THE PERILS OF THE “BIG ONE”; AND FOLLOW HIS INTERN’S BLOG HERE 

“Support boats will be available to assist, but paddlers should plan to bring adequate water and snacks for the trip. Remember, the sun in The Bahamas is hot, so pack your sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and if you burn easily, clothing to cover yourself up with along the way. Kayaking is a water activity, so be aware that anything that goes in the kayak with you will get wet whether it be from a splash from passing boat wake, drops from paddles, or a quick rain storm. Kayaking is a physical activity, remember the further you venture, the further the paddle to return.”

There will be a beach barbeque & party for spectators to cheer the paddlers on as they come in from their journey.

For more information call the FRIENDS office at 367-2721 or email info@friendsoftheenvironment.org

Bring your own Tee…Pete's Pub, Little Harbour, Abaco Bahamas

 Registration form, sponsorship form and waiver 

 Sponsorship donations can be made on-line

 Kayak Challenge event page on Facebook

Kayak Challenge Sponsors Cherokee AirHope Town Harbour LodgeThe Paint PlaceLightbourne MarinePete’s Pub and GalleryShirley Enterprises, Bon Secours Medical Group, Sands Marine Surveying & Consulting, Marsh Exporters and Importers, Ltd, Abaco Petroleum Company Ltd, Abaco Family Medicine, Abaco Tourist Office

Non-participatory support from a respectful distance (4250 miles) from

Delphi Bonefish LogoHighly competitive and vigorous kayak practice off the Delphi Club beach, Rolling HarbourKayak, Delphi Club, Abaco Bahamas

MOUNT ABACO: THE ISLAND’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 feet)


Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg

MOUNT ABACO: THE ISLAND’S MAJESTIC SUMMIT (134 feet)

The header photograph is not in fact anything to do with Abaco. Apologies for any confusion. It’s the Matterhorn, towering over the border of Switzerland and Italy, complete with high altitude, year-round snow and sub-zero temperatures. Abaco has its own excellent skiing, of course, but solely of the watery sort. However, recently the question arose as to exactly where the highest point on Abaco is situated. All sources agree that the altitude is a dizzying 134 feet, with some equating that with 40 meters and others with 41. It would be nit-picking to use the straight conversion of 40.8432 meters.

I once did a post comparing the altitude of Abaco with Mount Everest – if you have the patience, you’ll find it HERE. A check on G@@gle throws up a fascinating site called PEAKBAGGER. Click on the link and it takes you to the Abaco entry; but elsewhere on the site there is a mass of remarkable worldwide altitude information that you could easily spend an hour or 2 investigating. The essential info for Abaco is this:

  • Elevation: 41 meters, 134 feet
  • Name: “Unnamed High Point”
  • Latitude/Longitude: 26° 34′ 6” N; 77° 8′ 14” W 26.568399, -77.137319
  • 3rd highest point in the Bahamas
  • 54th highest point in the Caribbean
  • 1014th highest island point in the world (which seems very unlikely, somehow)
  • Nearest high point is on Eleuthera
  • No ‘ascents’ by registered ‘Peakbaggers’ (this is now on my bucket-list for easy personal achievements)

Peakbagger’s map places the high point close to the Highway north of Marsh Harbour. This puzzled me, partly because I remember Ricky Johnson showing us a significant rocky outcrop deep in the pine forest of south Abaco. Also, the land relief shown on the Peakbagger map suggests a higher ridge to the north-west of the red circle.Abaco High Point Map 1

So I did what any Abaco researcher would do – I contacted Sandy Estabrook, éminence grise behind the wonderful ABACO ESCAPE website. Within a very short time he got back to me with a clipping from a nautical map, confirming the high point’s location as the one given by Peakbagger. Abaco Nautical Chart

Far more importantly, it turned out that Sandy actually ascended the summit in 2009 with a friend and without oxygen. His expedition journal states simply “Heading South along Queens Hwy, Frank pointed out a hill on the Sea of Abaco side of the road. It had quite some elevation of over a hundred feet or more it seemed. (I have not seen a higher place in all of Abaco). And atop the hill was a tower that I was told was built by real estate interests some years ago for prospective clients to view the surroundings. We climbed the tower and I took a couple picts”

The tower will be familiar to travellers passing by on the Highway. I had read that this was a good place to look out for birds, and had assumed it was some sort of fire-watching tower. The use of a tower to scope out land for development is an ingenious one, but the landscape is mercifully still undeveloped. Here are some photos from the vantage point.

View roughly south-east from the tower to Hope Town. The lighthouse is just visible to the right.Frank View from Tower 84 copy

Looking north-east, with Great Guana Cay just visible on the horizonFrank View from Tower 82 copy

The view north(ish) along the ridge, with the Highway snaking up to Treasure CayFrank View from Tower 83 copy

AERIAL VIEWSMount Abaco 5 copyMount Abaco 3 copy

Normally, high points acquire a name at some time. Even quite low ones. Perhaps Abaco’s high point deserves one. In which case, Parrot Peak? (But the parrots, while symbolic of the island, don’t frequent the area). Hummingbird Hill? (Tiny and perfectly formed). A134? (Uninspiring). All suggestions welcome…

STOP PRESS Within 24 hours, John Bethel has kindly to say “I have always known this hill to be called Pidgeon Hill”. So, it has a name already. I’ll try to find out some more about this – for example whether the name is historic or recent. Can anyone add anything to this?

Thanks to Sandy Estabrook and to Peakbagger

 Abaco Escape logoPeakbagger Logo

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO


Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco Header

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO

ONCE UPON A TIME, on a magical far away island called Abaco, where the sun always shone and the people were always friendly and smiling, there lived a little woodpecker. It was a beautiful little woodpecker with long shiny golden locks and its name was Hairy… oh look, I can’t go on with this drivel and neither can you, I’m sure. Sorry about that. Let’s take it from the top…

    ♦      ♦      ♦      ♦

I have mentioned before the excellent birding opportunities that a wander round the Delphi drive circuit has to offer. It’s the best part of 2 miles. I am working on a list of all species encountered on the route from the Lodge, along the guest drive to the white rock on the road, and back down the service drive. It is turning out to be a gratifyingly long one.

During your stroll, it’s worth checking out the dead trees, especially the upper trunk and branches, as you go. For a start, these provide excellent places for birds to pause and scope out the territory below. They also have a good chance of finding insects there. And for some species, like the Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus, it is home. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 16

The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to the Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, the smallest woodpecker of North America. Male HWs have a prominent red patch on the back of the head.  You can find an earlier post about a male HW and its nest in the Delphi coppice, with some HW species facts, HERE

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Last June Tom Sheley, a birding expert and photographer from Ohio with serious (by which I mean huge camo-covered camera and tripod) equipment, was staying at Delphi. He tipped me off about a woodpecker nest he’d found 1/3 of the way along the guest drive, just before the first bend. So I grabbed a camera –  the wrong one, as it turned out, but my main camera battery was charging – and headed out. I found the nest at the top of a dead tree near the edge of the drive (shown above) and a female HW close to it. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 1

She watched my approach carefully, and as soon as I paused close to the nest tree, she went into a fascinating ‘diversionary tactic’ routine to distract me from the nest. She flew across the track close in front of me, and settled on a tree on the other side of the drive, about 1/3 of the way up its trunk. There, she proceeded to scold me loudly as I fiddled about with the camera… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 3

Still scolding, she then started to climb the tree quite slowly, pausing occasionally to fire off some more angry woodpecker abuse at me. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 6

From time to time, she would change tack, closing her eyes gradually and hugging the trunk. This was presumably to make herself appear vulnerable to a predator (me), and therefore retain its (my) interest. If anyone is familiar with this behaviour, please leave a comment.Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 5

The woodpecker carried on up the tree, chattering as she went…Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 7

…before performing the closed eye / sleepy routine againHairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 11Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 12

By now she was nearing the top of the tree, and I was thinking of giving in… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 13 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 14 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 15

Once she had reached the very top, I made the decision to move on, marvelling at her persistence in taking on a two-legged predator 6ft 5″ high and… not exactly a bantam-weight. Then I realised that, in all of this, I hadn’t thought of the nest behind me a single time. She and her distraction technique had won, and so I made my apologies for disturbing her and left. HW 1, Human 0. At least I knew that on a hot cloudless day I had something to look forward to back at the ranch… 

coasters

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO


Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 5

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO

Contrary to appearances from the header image and the one below, Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) do not yet use cellphones to communicate. Nevertheless, the trick of having a good ear-scratch while standing in water on one leg is a good posey accomplishment.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 4

All these photos were taken while we were bonefishing from a skiff far out on the Marls in the mangroves. Ishi poled us closer so that boat-partner Tom – a real photographer – could get some shots. Meanwhile, I did my best with my little camera that I take out on the boat – the one that won’t matter too much when it slips from my hand or pocket into the drink. These things happen: I lost a good pair of Costas that a gust of wind unkindly whisked away when I took them off to change a fly.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 3Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 2

This egret comes in two very different ‘colourways’. The classic version has a slatey-blue body and a reddish head and plumes. The white morph is pure white. The only similarities between the two are the two-tone bills with the black tip; and the blue-grey legs and feet.

True Reddish Egret, as you might expect it to lookReddish_Egret Wiki

The white morphReddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 9

I’m not certain of the proportions of each type on Abaco, but I have certainly seen twice as many white ones as true reddish ones. There seem to be quite a few around – there are plenty of fish for them and dozens of square miles of human-free space in which to stalk them. However as with many (most?) of the bird species, there is a declining population for all the usual man-related reasons, and these fine birds have now had to be put on the IUCN ‘near-threatened’ list.220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

The bird kept an eye on us as we drifted closer, but was unperturbed. It continued to poke around in the mud, and occasionally it moved delicately but quite quickly to a different patch.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 8 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 7 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 6

We watched the bird for about 10 minutes. Then we returned to what we were really there for – Tom to catch bones with practised skill, and me to wave the rod incompetently around until some passing fish took pity on me and grabbed my fly, knowing it would soon be released once all the fuss was over…Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 1

‘FAMILIAR FECES': CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES


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‘FAMILIAR FECES': CETACEAN POOP-SCOOPING BY SPECIES

UPDATE I name-checked BMMRO intern Oscar Ward’s blog below. Now he’s been out on the ocean on ‘poop patrol’. You can read Oscar’s account of his experiences HERE

Among the many pleasures for cetacean research scientists must be the joy of whale poop collection. Followed by close inspection and analysis. The Bahamas  Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO conducts research expeditions, in conjunction with such organisations as the New England Aquarium NEAQ and Friends of the Environment FOTE, in Abaco waters and further afield in the Bahamas. The attention this year has been on beaked whale feces, though available sperm whale feces are not to be sniffed at. Images and info below are courtesy of the organisations mentioned above, with thanks for use permission

TopHead_070815o_01_Md_DEC_035

A researcher working with BMMRO demonstrates feces collection using coffee grounds. She collects the coffee granules in her net and places the entire sample into a ziplock bag, ready to hand to the boat for processing 269

The purpose of feces collection is to look at the stress and reproductive hormones of the whales and to gather a baseline for these animals with which to compare other populations that are under threat3

An alternative method of collectionpoop15

Blainville’s Beaked Whales (suppliers of raw research material)Blainville's Beaked Whale AbacoBeaked whale - supplier of poop BMMRO

There are some conditions – dare I say windy ones – when Blainville’s beaked whales may be hard to locate. At such times, collection of pieces of other species feces rarely ceases… Here is a sperm whale in the act of producing laboratory samplesTail_18Jun10_01_Pm_CAD_123

Weather of the sort that makes the day’s collection more complicated. Indeed, it looks and uphill task…GOPR0109

That’s enough on the topic for now. Later in the month there will be some great dolphin pictures to enjoy. Below is the BMMRO sightings chart for July, which I forgot to publish sooner.

Finally, a young UK friend of ours, Oscar Ward, has recently won his place to study marine biology at university next Autumn. He has just arrived on Abaco to start an internship with the BMMRO at Sandy Point. He will then be moving to Friends of the Environment in MH. He has set up an excellent blog to record his experiences, with his first Abaco post going up today, I notice. You can follow Oscar at SEVENTYPERCENT.COM And if you see him around, do say hi! to him.

BMMRO SIGHTINGS JULY 2013

CATCHING FLIES: CRESCENT-EYED (CUBAN) PEWEE ON ABACO


Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 6

One of the prettiest small birds to photograph on Abaco is the Crescent-eyed, or Cuban, Pewee Contopus caribaeus. These small flycatchers are as interested in your struggles with your camera settings and your ‘stealthy’ (yet clumsy) approach, as you are in their cute poses. It’s a symbiotic relationship – you may get nice pictures, they have a benign laugh at your efforts.Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 2

This bird was one of a pair we found at a magical corner of scrubland at a crossroad of tracks between the edge of the pine forest and a backcountry of derelict and overgrown sugar cane fields – the perfect habitat for a wide variety of species. The pewees had a nest hidden deep in the undergrowth, but were tame enough to be untroubled by our presence. They kept calm and carried on as usual.Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 1Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 5

These little birds are resident in Cuba and the Northern Bahamas. I have previously posted photos of them, taken by the beach at Casuarina, HERE. They are the smallest flycatchers – tyrannidae – on Abaco, a family that includes LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, and the larger Loggerhead & Gray Kingbirds. Here’s a recording of cuban pewees made on Abaco (credit: Jesse Fagan / Xeno-Canto)

Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 3Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 4

They often have a charmingly quizzical or watchful expressionCrescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 8Crescent-eyed (Cuban) Pewee on Abaco 7

“Magical Corner”, Abaco – birding hotspot. Location on application. $$ only please (©Tom Sheley)Birdwatching Hotspot, Abaco Backcountry ©Tom Sheley

“STRIKE THE POSE”: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO


Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 5

“STRIKE THE POSE”: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS ON ABACO

The red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) has previously hopped around these pages in the context of a (my!) simple way to RECORD BIRDS using a smart-phone, trim the result and convert it into an mp3 (or even a ring-tone – I have a great Abaco parrot one to startle friends, family and indeed complete strangers). Now we move on to a more important topic, namely courtship and so forth. And boy, don’t male RWBs fancy themselves when trying to impress the laydeez…Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 1We had taken a truck into backcountry between the pine forest and the Marls, with Tom and his impressive camo-camera with its 10 foot lens.Tom & Nighthawks

We found formerly cultivated fields – evidence of the defunct sugar cane industry – and then we came unexpectedly to a large expanse of open scrubland, with the track straggling through the middle.Truck

And there, on carefully chosen vantage points, was an array of RWBs. Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 2

This bird was within range of my comparatively puny camera, and I watched as it arranged itself into various elegant poses in the late afternoon sun. All around were their ‘rusty door hinge’ calls, of which this is an example (in fact a female, recorded at Casaurina, hence the background sound of lapping waves).

Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 4

These acres of open land were not far inland, and there was a slight breeze to ease the heat. This caused the occasional ruffling of feathers, and the need to spruce up…Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 3

The purpose of all this was of course to impress the opposite sex (behaviour not confined to bird species). There were plenty of females around, also similarly perching on vantage points for similar display-with-view-to-dating-maybe-more reasons.Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 6Red-winged Blackbird Abaco Bahamas 7

I didn’t see the phase in which the males may get quite worked-up, but luckily Y**T*b* has perfect example of a male RWB in full song. Credits as shown on the video.

HOPE TOWN, ABACO: DOLPHINS & A LIGHTHOUSE IN THE SUN


Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 13

HOPE TOWN, ABACO: DOLPHINS & A LIGHTHOUSE IN THE SUN

A trip to Hope Town and Elbow Cay is a always a treat. Especially if it includes lunch with friends. Most of my previous visits have been in cloud or rain, so the glory of the historic and indeed iconic candy-striped lighthouse has been rather marred. I left Delphi in hot sunshine, but it began to cloud over ominously during the half-hour drive north to Marsh Harbour and Albury’s Ferry Terminal. I was still optimistic when I arrived, though…Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 2…until I looked the other way. The 20-minute crossing of the Sea of Abaco to Elbow Cay was characterised by a sudden pelting rain storm and a churning sea. A passenger lay down greenly, and I began to count the minutes.Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 1However, as we approached Hope Town we emerged from the gloom into bright sun, and a fine view of the lighthouse. This edifice has one of the last remaining kerosene-lit lights in the world, attended to every 2 hours throughout the night by volunteers. The mechanism sits on a bed of mercury, and the light shines through the original fresnel lenses. Much of the original british-made machinery is still in place. For a tour round the interior, with excellent photos taken by Mrs RH, and views from the top platform, click HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 3 Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 4Lunch at the pleasant Harbour’s Edge Restaurant was enhanced by two – or was it three? – bottlenose dolphins that swam around the harbour. I was torn between eating, chatting  and photographing them. I didn’t catch the wonderful lazy arcs they made as the broke the surface and slowly arched back into the water. It was near impossible to predict where they would surface next. Here are a couple of less dramatic shots… Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 11Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 5After lunch there was time for a quick wander round the attractive little town, with its pastel-coloured houses. Hope Town 1a

There was a YELLOW ELDER tree in bloom, the national flower of the Bahamas. [Later: as it turns out, I was caught in the act... of photography]Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 7Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 6996860_10200325236513792_581389694_n

Hummingbird Cottage Art Centre and Gallery

I was taken to see the new HUMMINGBIRD COTTAGE ART CENTRE & GALLERY  a fine work of building restoration in the centre of town that provides a surprisingly large exhibition space and an idyllic place for art classes and related activities.

DSC_0076-150x150Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 10Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 8Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 9Later, I took the ferry back to Marsh Harbour, taking a final good look at the lighthouse, still thankfully in full sunlight against a vivid blue sky.Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 12Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 15  Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 14Hope Town, Elbow Cay, Abaco 16

LINKS

HOPE TOWN LIGHTHOUSE: THE WORKS

YELLOW ELDER: BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER

Screen-Shot-2013-01-30-at-8.33.11-PM

ALBURY’S FERRY SERVICE

and for a comprehensive overview of Hope Town and Elbow Cay

hopetown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hummingbird Cottage ©Brigitte Bowyer

SAWMILL SINK, ABACO: INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE


Sawmill Sink (adventureactivist youtube)

SAWMILL SINK, ABACO: INDUSTRIAL ARCHAEOLOGY IN A POST-APOCALYPTIC LANDSCAPE

1. BLUE HOLES

The Blue Holes of Abaco are geological wonders about which much has been written – much of it in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE. Sawmill Sink is one of the best-known inland ones; and there are other holes in the shallow seas on both sides of the island. They are deep chasms in the limestone rock, many leading to extensive and complex cave systems under the island. Divers exploring Sawmill Sink have found many prehistoric fossils, including those of an extinct giant tortoise, and land crocodiles. Most conveniently, this fascinating blue hole is close to Delphi, hidden deep in the pine forest and accessible only by historic logging tracks.

LOGGING TRACK TO SAWMILL SINKSawmill Sink Abaco 19

AERIAL VIEW OF SAWMILL SINK DEEP IN THE PINE FORESTSawmill Sink Map copy

This article is not about Blues Holes in general, nor Sawmill Sink  specifically. I have such a post planned, but for the moment I’ll put some relevant links at the end of this one. Feel free to scroll straight there if the cumbersome heading has already put you off… but in an effort to hold your interest, here’s an image of the Sink to give you an idea of what it looks like. There are wooden steps down and a platform to enable you to swim in it (there are no crocodiles these days. So they say…).

SAWMILL SINK, ABACOSawmill Sink Abaco 8

2. A LOGGING HISTORY

South Abaco – defined loosely as the area south of Marsh Harbour – is dominated by pine forest. There are a few settlements and individual residences, all by the coast. The forested swathes are criss-crossed by an extensive system of logging tracks, many now all but impassable. They are reminders of Abaco’s historic importance as a source of wood deriving from the ubiquitous tall, slim pines. One use to which they were put was as mine pit props in the collieries of Wales.

 1996.2039.db

Last June when we went to Sawmill Sink, we saw a rusty rail sticking up from the undergrowth. We were with Ricky Johnson, the man who could invariably answer any question about Abaco; he explained that there had at one time been a light railway through the forest to carry the felled timber to the highway, where it was transported to the coast for loading onto ships.Sawmill Sink Abaco 17

Last month we returned to Sawmill Sink. The south part of the island was enduring the annual outbreak of forest fires, most (if not all) believed to be set by hunters wanting to clear to undergrowth to make hog-hunting easier. While the occasional natural fire is actually good for the forest (cf burning moorland), the set fires do great damage over a vast area. On some days there were 6 or more separate seats of fire appearing in one day – highly unlikely to be the work of nature. Thick palls of smoke drifted across the island, and out to sea. Even far out on the Marls, the fires were visible, with the smell of burning carried on the wind. This year, the fires came uncomfortably close to some of the settlements. Night-long community action was needed in some places to protect property. At Delphi, the fires came within 300 feet or so before finally fizzling out in the coppice… Two years ago, they  came nearly as close. For a post-fire wander round the Delphi drive circuit click FOREST FIRES (it was one of the first, tentative posts on this blog – and boy, does it show… it needs a rethink)

DELPHI GUEST DRIVE: A WARM WELCOMEForest Fire, Delphi, Abaco

The photos that follow show the track to Sawmill Sink immediately after a fire had swept through the area. Trees were still smouldering and in places the ground was still hot to the touch. Along the way the evidence of the former usage had been laid bare. Some images show the paved path that leads from the logging track to the Sink. I have no idea if these are the first images of so many visible remains of the logging trade, revealed by the burnt-off undergrowth. I haven’t tracked down any others at all so far. I write as a non-resident of the island, so if anyone can add any information, please do so via the COMMENT box. Sawmill Sink Abaco 1 Sawmill Sink Abaco 2 Sawmill Sink Abaco 3 Sawmill Sink Abaco 5 Sawmill Sink Abaco 6 Sawmill Sink Abaco 7 Sawmill Sink Abaco 9 Sawmill Sink Abaco 10 Sawmill Sink Abaco 11 Sawmill Sink Abaco 12 Sawmill Sink Abaco 13 Sawmill Sink Abaco 14

Finally, we found this rock close to the Sink. Are those plant fossils? Bearing in mind that sea probably covered this area entirely (the highest point on Abaco is a mere 134 feet ASL), might these be anemones or sponge fossils of some sort? Comments from fossilologists welcome.

STOP PRESS thanks to FOSSIL LADY (aka Kathi) for the following: “Those don’t look like plant fossils to me, they remind me of stromatolites, a sponge like creature that first dominated the earth billions of years ago. Some varieties still survive today. It would be worth it to have a geologist have a look see. ps the sinkhole is awesome!”Sawmill Sink Abaco 15

SOME BLUE HOLE LINKS TO EXPLORE 

BAHAMAS CAVES RESEARCH FOUNDATION

FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT, ABACO

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

ADVANCED DIVER MAGAZINE ARTICLE

As a reward for having waded through the smoke and ash above, here’s a short video of what you can see if you dive in a blue hole. It’s worth saying (1) that you need to check you are allowed dive – some holes are subject to ongoing research and (2) blue hole diving and caving is an inherently unsafe activity unless you have the right equipment and know exactly (by which I don’t mean “hey, I can wing it”) what you are doing… 

Photo credits: all RH except header (adventureactivist, youTube); pit props (Scottish Mining Museum); aerial view (Gmaps)

“ROCK & ROLLING WAVES”: ROCK EROSION ON ABACO


Rock Erosion Gilpin Point 3

“ROCK & ROLLING WAVES”: ROCK EROSION ON ABACO

On 26th October 2012, the ‘roof’ of the geological feature at the southern tip of Abaco known for centuries as Hole-in-the-Wall was blasted apart by Hurricane Sandy. The combination of huge waves and powerful winds proved too much for a structure that had existed since the last ice age. I posted in detail about this event last year HERE so now I will concentrate on some geological aspects.

The photo below shows the Hole a year or so before its destruction. At the left-hand end of the bridge there is a paler area underneath where limestone rock had recently fallen into the sea, suggesting an underlying instability. At close quarters there were plenty of cracks in the apparently solid structure. (I’ve no idea why I didn’t straighten the image. Let’s say… Artistic Perspective)hole-in-the-wall-abaco-ricky-johnson

This photo was taken a few days after the collapse, the first to be published of the new view. The clean white rock at either end of the ex-bridge is clearly visible. The section on the left became a new islet at the southern extremity Abaco, separated from the mainland for the first time in history. I proposed various names for it (not all serious) – Sandy Cay (or Isle) was the clear, indeed obvious, winner…

Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco- the new gap Nov 2012

This close-up of the south side of the bridge shows the detail of the rock fragmentation. Tara’s photographs are (as far as I know) the very first of the new gap and of Abaco’s new islet, predating John Haestad’s by a day.HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO post Sandy 3

◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

We recently went to a beach near Crossing Rocks that we had never explored before (plenty of interest there for later posts). We were struck by the fragmented and pitted nature of the limestone rocks on the shoreline. We noticed some pale exposed rock surfaces, similar to those at Hole-in-the-Wall. We watched the incoming waves scouring and undercutting the rocks, leaving overhangs (see video below). Erosion is increased by the double action of the waves. The immediate area hinted that there may even have been a very small Hole at one time. On the day we were there, the sea was gentle. It’s easy to imagine how the hugely destructive force of the wind and crashing waves resulting from hurricanes such as Sandy can eventually shatter solid rock that has been gradually eroded and destabilised over centuries by wave action.Rock Erosion Gilpin Point 1 copyRock Erosion Gilpin Point 2 copy

Photo credits as shown / RH. You have Mrs RH to thank for a shorter (50 secs) video than the one I originally made (75 secs). Now I’ve redone the thing, I agree – one wave does look very like the next… 

ADDENDUM Just remembered that I took an aerial photo of HitW from the plane the other day. It’s a phone photo through BahamasAir window glass, and I’ve had to tweak it a bit. It shows the relevant area…all the blurry dark stuff is part the pine forest of the National Park 

Image - Version 2

ADDENDUM 2 In response to a comment about the power of hurricanes, here is an image I have posted previously of a large rock some way out from the Delphi beach. Before Hurricane Irene in 2011, it was a solid rectangular slab. This is what it was like after Irene had moved on northwards  Delphi Blasted Rock

BABY BONEFISH, CASUARINA, ABACO HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT…


Casuarina Bay (to south)

BABY BONEFISH, CASUARINA, ABACO: HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT…

Bonefish are difficult to see in the water at the best of times. Shining silver out of water, but pale grey shadows underwater. Fishing under cloud cover and / or (especially ‘and’) when there’s a ripple on the water can be atritional. Sight-casting becomes impossible, and the best recourse is to locate the cloudy patches of water that show where the fish are feeding on the bottom. Chucking the fly into – or beyond – one of these and stripping back may be the only way to get a fish in such adverse conditions. What’s needed is clear sky, sunlight, good polaroids, patience, and keen eyes to scan the water for dark shadows moving across the sand… Or, in my case, simply waiting for the guide to hiss “Hey! Rolling Harbour. Three fish, 40 feet, 10 o’clock moving right, see them? Go now!”. By then, there’s a 50 / 50 chance I may have located them and got my act together enough to (try to) cast at them…

This picture of an adult fish, just caught on the Marls and released at once, shows how a bonefish can easily blend in with its underwater surroundings… but it can’t hide the dark shadow it casts.Adult Bonefish, The Marls, Abaco Bahamas

Two days later we went to Casuarina with friends who wanted a day’s wading on the extensive flats there. This photo shows a juvenile fish close to the beach there, on a glorious sunny day with a light breeze (the header picture [double-click] was taken the same day – low water over pale sand as far as the eye can see). I’d never have noticed this little fish, had I not seen the dark shadow it cast on the sand, magnified by the distorting effect of the ripples.

Without the distortion from surface ripples, the bonefish shape can be clearly seen. It’s hard to imagine that by the time this little fish has reached a weight of 2 lbs, he will be capable of stripping your line down to the backing in seconds… or could he?

No, not, in fact. This fish, with its deeply forked ‘bonefish’ tail, is in fact a YELLOWFIN MOJARRA also known as shad. As Zach Zuckerman of the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE writes in kindly emphasising that the fish above is not a bonefish, “the yellowfin mojarra… is related to the mottled mojarra mentioned in Chris Haak’s text (see below). Yellowfin mojarra and bones share the same habitats, and mojarra also feed off of benthic invertebrates”. Which brings me to some interesting recent findings by the CAPE ELEUTHERA INSTITUTE in conjunction with thBONEFISH & TARPON TRUST. We saw a single small fish. It looked like a bonefish (though I guess the yellow fin markings suggested otherwise). It was in fact a similar-looking species. Where are all the young bones? The babies? How do they protect themselves from the many predators of juvenile fish?

EVER WONDER WHY YOU DON’T SEE SCHOOLS OF TINY BONEFISH ON THE FLATS?

Article ref: blog.ceibahamas.org

“Since May 2011, Christopher Haak, a PhD student (and avid fisherman) at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, along with other scientists, has been trying to solve the mystery of where juvenile bonefish live, from settlement through the time they join adult populations on the flats.  Exhaustive efforts to locate juveniles along the densely-developed coastlines of Florida were met with little success, leading researchers to the comparatively pristine shorelines of The Bahamas to continue their search.

For the past one-and-a-half years, they have scoured the coastlines of South Eleuthera, conducting 1000+ seine hauls, encompassing a broad range of coastal habitats. This project is funded by Bonefish & Tarpon Trust and based out of CEI.   These efforts (with the help of South-Eleutherans; thanks Denny and Kelsey Rankin!) have succeeded in locating over 800 juvenile bonefish as small as one inch in length, and have revealed some intriguing trends.  For example, contrary to what might be expected, juvenile bonefish do not appear to frequent the mangrove creek systems or expansive tidal flats commonly used by adults, preferring instead to remain along shallow, sheltered shorelines near deeper basins or channels.”

Can you find the juvenile bonefish among the mojarra in the picture below?

“Perhaps the most remarkable finding to date is that nearly every bonefish collected was in the company of much greater numbers of like-sized mojarras (a common schooling baitfish known to Bahamians as shad).  These juvenile bonefish exhibited markings and coloration not apparent in adult bonefish, but very similar to the mojarras with which they were caught.  By blending in with considerably greater numbers of the model species, the mimics may be reducing their predation risk, and increasing their chances of survival.  In the case of bonefish, this hypothesis would also explain why juveniles are so rarely observed; they are well hidden within schools of mojarras!  From a conservation perspective, this suggests that bonefish populations may be dependent upon healthy mojarra populations, important information for resource managers.

This research is also producing valuable information about the diverse juvenile fish communities that inhabit Eleuthera’s shores.  Myriad seine hauls of the island’s beaches, bays, sounds, and creeks have catalogued juvenile fishes from a wide array of species, including other flats inhabitants like permit, reef fish such as parrotfish, jacks, and wrasses, and some very unusual demersal critters such as shortnose batfish.  The high densities and diversity of juvenile fishes revealed by this study serves to highlight the importance of these nearshore habitats to healthy adult fish populations of all kinds, underscoring the need to preserve and care for our coastlines.”

ADDENDUM With thanks to Aaron Adams of the BONEFISH & TARPON TROUT for use permission, here is a great size indicator for baby bonefish, taken by him some years back in connection with a juvenile bonefish project.juvbonefish

CEI LOGO logo

ABACO FROM SPACE: NASA / ISS VIEWS 225 MILES ABOVE THE BLUE PLANET


STS060-84-32

ABACO FROM SPACE:  NASA  /  ISS VIEWS 225 MILES ABOVE THE BLUE PLANET

I have had another look through NASA‘s stock of Bahamas images taken from the INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION. They come in differing formats. Over time the Station’s orbit takes it directly over or close to Abaco. In the past I have posted images of Hurricane Irene and Hurricane Sandy taken from space; and one of the astonishing Bahama variations of the colour BLUE. Here is a further selection.

The first two images show an orbit from north to south. I have annotated the first for those unfamiliar with the geography of Abaco. I assume the next was taken only a second or two later, with the whole of the southern tip / National Park / Hole-in-the-Wall area of Abaco now shown.

Abaco Map NASA:ISSA annotated STS060-84-33

This image gives an idea of the underwater connection between the island land masses. Here, a corrugated underwater sequence of ridges and troughs can be seen linking the southern end of Abaco with the south western end of Grand Bahama. Moore’s Island and, barely visible below it, Gorda (‘Castaway’) Cay rise above sea level between the two larger islands. The Berry Is. and Great Harbour Cay can be seen bottom left; Eleuthera snakes downwards bottom right. [At Rick Guest's suggestion, I have rotated the image 90˚ from the original to make sense of a view distorted by angle (the space station's), earth curvature and my own misinterpretation... It makes far more sense now, and I have corrected geographic errors accordingly... I've also added an annotated aeroplane's-eye view below it, taken from much closer to the earth and therefore less subject to distortion. Many thanks, Rick]STS108-724-71 copyAbaco Map  - Island relationships

Abaco seen from the southeast. Little Abaco and Grand Bahama are at the top, and all are shown inter-connected underwater. The reef chain of the Abaco Cays – the world’s third longest barrier reef – can clearly be seen on the rightISS017-E-12812

This image appears to be a blow-up of the sharper ‘filmic’ second one above. The detail has become hazy and indistinct, though part of the island-long ribbon of highway remains clearly visible. Time for a photo-enhancing experiment…
NASA clip

I played around with the contrast and colour settings of the photo above, to see what effect it produced (below). The most marked result is that areas of low water  – the coastline, the underwater high ground, the Marls and mangrove swamps, the low water of Cherokee Sound – became vividly highlighted. I don’t know what the small russet patches are, particularly visible in the Marls. My (ill-)educated guess is that they represent mangrove / mud islands that are underwater at high tide only, and that were in tidal transition as the Space Station passed overhead. Any ideas welcomed via the comment box.NASA clip - Version 2

RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013


Ricky Johnson, Abaco, Bahamas

FOR RICKY JOHNSON, ABACO NATURE GUIDE & ENTHUSIAST 1964-2013 

Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 1

No one who knew Ricky, or even merely met him, could doubt his charisma, his infectious enthusiasm for life, and for Abaco and its natural history. His Abaco Nature Tours were legendary. As non-islanders, we knew that a day out in Ricky’s company would be a hectic and memorable one. He knew where all the birds were to be found – and enticed the shy ones out of the coppice with his trademark calls. He was all-seeing and all-knowing – information about Abaco’s natural history, social history, geology, poisonous plants and bush medicine would stream from him irrepressibly throughout the day. Ask him a question? He’d know the answer. He seemed never so happy as when he spotted something and pulled the truck over, leaping out with the door open so all could hear his running commentary as he explained the properties of some small plant that most would have failed to notice. Accompanied, of course, by a gag and THAT laugh.


Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 3

In many ways, it is impertinent for occasional blow-ins to become involved in what is the island’s grief over Ricky’s tragically young passing. However in the short time we knew him – far too short – we both came to feel we had known him for many years. That was the Ricky effect. He was a joy to know, and we will remember him with joy as well as with sadness.

Ricky Johnson Pishing Woodstars Crossing Rocks Abaco

Land Crab : Ricky Johnson 2

ABACO HISTORY: SHIPS, MAPS & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL


Schooner (Wiki)

I have posted several times about Hole-in-the-Wall, the geological feature and historic nautical landmark at the southern tip of Abaco. I’ve covered the frankly concerning 15-mile trip to reach it and the eponymous lighthouse;  its history in both maps and pictures; and its destruction by Hurricane Sandy last October. A full index of the related Hole-in-the Wall posts can be found at the foot of this page (most recent first). I am returning to one specific early picture of HitW because of interesting information supplied by Capt Rick Guest.

THE PICTURE The lovely aquatint below is by J. Wells, based on a sketch by a naval officer (“Half-Pay”), published in the 1803 NAVAL CHRONICLE by founder J.Gold of Shoe Lane, London. It’s quite small picture, measuring 5½” x 9″. As I said in the original post, “you may be looking at a screen clip of a scan of the book plate of the earliest surviving depiction of Hole-in-the Wall. If anyone knows of an older one, please get in touch. And can anyone identify what kind of sailing vessels these are (I wouldn’t know a brigantine from a clipper…)?”.

THE SHIPS I am now better informed about historic ships (though no wiser). I am very grateful to Rick Guest for his various contributions, including his ID of the ships in the aquatint: “The vessel on the left (west) is a Topsail (‘tops’l’) SCHOONER. Because of the angle on the other vessel, my guess is it’s a BRIG. Brigs have 2 masts, usually with a large ‘Spanker’ (aft sail).” The schooner is flying the Union Jack. The two rowing boats setting off from the ships seem from the detail to be heading towards land – perhaps to find fruit or other provisions.

hole-in-the-wall-print-1803

THE GEOLOGY Besides showing Hole-in-the-Wall between the 2 ships (as it was until Hurricane Sandy struck in October 2012), there is an additional feature that I did not originally remark on. To the right of the aquatint is a single rocky islet. Its left side and the corresponding end of the mainland clearly evidence the previous existence of another longer-arched hole, its roof presumably long gone by 1803. Earlier maps make no reference to a second Hole, though it’s possible the oldest refer to the larger, more significant hole until it collapsed and left the smaller hole to bear the name. At all events, the islet to the right in the aquatint is now largely submerged, though it can be seen from an aerial view. If anyone has a photo of it taken from the sea, with the promontory and lighthouse behind, please get in touch.

Hole-in-the-Wall aerial view

MAPS

I have found some more images of historic maps of Abaco to add to the earlier collection.

1. Johannes van Keulen 1728  c17/ early c18 Dutch cartographer. The top image of two is from a less well-reproduced edition, possibly an early one. The HitW area is uncompromisingly called ‘Hole Rok’. This is a rare instance of another ‘Hole Rok’ being marked of the south-west tip of Abaco. The main island itself is often described at this time as I. Lucaj(y)onesque, or similar derivative from the word ‘LUCAYA’ (Lucyan people being the early inhabitants of the Bahamas region). Notable here is the use of the word ‘I. Abbaco’ for a cay on the east side rather than the whole island.

van Keulen mod

This second much clearer (and later?) print of the same van Keulen map demonstrates why Hole-in-the-Wall is of such historic importance to the Abacos. It clearly marks the only settlement of any significance known to seafarers and cartographers of the time. Other contemporary maps are the same. It is the only named place on Abaco. Buildings are even shown here, though nowhere else on the island. It may well be fair to conclude that until at least 1800, HitW was the ‘capital’ of Abaco. Nowadays it is simply a functioning lighthouse in urgent need of attention and repair, with the abandoned buildings of the lighthouse station clustered round it (the light was automated in 1995). There is no settlement and there are no dwellings, not even visible ruins.van Keulen 1728

2. Thomas Kitchin 1782 Kitchin was a well-known English c18 cartographer who famously mapped the counties of Britain. He also worked in the Caribbean for a time. The clip below is taken from his map “West Indies according to Best Authorities“. The image doesn’t do the map justice. I own it (thanks, Mrs RH) and had just framed it when someone asked for a quick photo, so it is taken through glass (too lazy to remove it – will try to improve the image later). Great Abaco is now specifically named in its own right as an island, though the Abacos group as a whole retains its historic Lucayan name. Again, ‘The Hole in the Rock’ is the only place-name included. As a side-note, Grand Bahama has progressed from ‘Bahama Eyland’ to ‘Great Bahama’Abaco map

3. B.T.Welch, published F.Lucas Jr 1823 The top map shows the entire West Indies. I have located a clearer version of it and added the clip below it showing the detail of the top left corner Northern Bahamas corner

Abaco Map B.T.Welch published F.Lucas Jr 1823One hundred years on from the van Keulen map, and a few familiar names are starting to appear, especially with the ‘Kays’. ‘Hole of the Rock’, as it was now called, is still almost the only named place on the main island. I can’t make out what the bearing and date under the name means – any suggestions welcome. In passing, I note that ‘Gordo K(ay)’ is named, the earliest mention I have found. It is now of course ‘Disney Island’, and good luck to it… ‘Great Bahama’ has now become. finally, Grand Bahama.Abaco B.T.Welch published F.Lucas Jr 1823

4. George Cram 1898 This map demonstrates how, even in relatively modern times, mapmakers can take their eye off the globe, as it were, and go wrong. True, ‘Hole in the Rock’ is named and its lighthouse (completed 1836) is marked. However, some of the attributed place-names seem surprising – for example, Moore’s Island has strangely been called Moose Isl. And for a map not much more than 100 years old, in the ‘Superior Atlas of the World‘, the general topography of Abaco is way off the mark. Either that or the Crossing Rocks area in the lower quarter of the island below “Cheering Sound” – a slim land-narrow just few metres wide from east to west coast – has been on a crash diet in the intervening century… It’s basically the width of the road with a beach on either side.

Abaco 1898 George Cram

LIST OF PREVIOUS HitW POSTS

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO: THE ‘HOLE’ THAT’S NO LONGER A WHOLE December 9, 2012

HOLE-IN-THE WALL ABACO: “MIND THE GAP” – A NEW ISLET IS BORN November 8, 2012

ABACO’S ‘HOLE-IN-THE-WALL’ BEFORE SANDY DEMOLITION: FIRST & LAST EVER IMAGES November 5, 2012

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK November 3, 2012

 HOLE-IN-THE-WALL ABACO: HISTORIC 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT May 23, 2012

 ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS April 8, 2012

 “TO THE LIGHTHOUSE…” A TRIP TO HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, ABACO May 25, 2011

 

THE CORALS OF FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO [VIDEO]


DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

THE CORALS OF FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO

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I usually have 3 or 4 planned posts on the go. Some are quick to compose, some are not. Especially those requiring technical input from the technically unsound – downloading a video, changing the file format, editing and polishing, uploading to a compatible ‘carrier’ etc. I’ve been meaning to get round to making some fish and reef videos from footage of a trip with Kay Politano of Abaco Above & Below. Now I have…coral8

If you are tolerant enough to at least start this one, which focusses on coral, can I restate the excuses? I swim like a panicking cat. I hadn’t snorkelled for a great many decades years until 2011. I was a stranger to underwater scenery, let alone photography. I wave my tiny camera around too excitedly, though not deliberately to inflict seasickness on hapless viewers… It is a bit less bad this time round, however. Luckily I can tell from my stats if anyone has bothered to click on the video below, and you can rely on me to trash the thing if I find a paltry (or non-existent) response. Best just to watch on the small screen, though.coral14

With those dire warnings, here is the video. I would be very interested to ID all the corals that can be seen. There are the easy ones like sea fan, elkhorn, mustard hill, brain… but what’s that one over there? No, behind the waving one…? Comments / suggestions welcome. And if you don’t much care for coral, there are some pretty fish to look at…

Music Credit: Adrian Legg’s ‘Old Friends’, from ‘Guitar Bones’

ADDENDUM JAN 13 I am really grateful to Capt Rick Guest for taking the time to view the video, and the trouble to analyse the contents. He has very helpfully highlighted many points of interest in the film, both as to coral and as to fish, so I’ll post his commentary in full, with my thanks. Of both interest and concern are Rick’s remarks about the Elkhorn Coral. I had wondered about its bleached look. It’s dying…

CORALS ETC

  • At 0:36 a lavender Sea Fan…(Gorgonia ventalina).
  • At 0:52 Yellow “Leaf”,or “Letuce Coral”. Agaricia species growing around a living soft coral called a “Sea Rod”. Soft Corals have living polyps which feed on plankton just like the hard corals.
  • At 1:02 More Agaricia, and a small Brain Coral at bottom. Either a Diploria, or Colpophylia species.
  • At 1:10 A Sergent Major fish, (Abedefduf saxatilus). One of my favorite Taxanomic names! Behind is mostly dead, Elkhorn Coral. The white areas being indicative of “White Plague”. A disease responsible for Coral Whiting…..Death!
  • At 1:37 A Blue Tang swims over some “Mustard Coral”… Porites porites.
  • At 1:55 A chubby “Chub” swims by. Likes caves and caverns and edible, but not palatable.  
  • At 2:33-38  Much coral bleaching damage here on these Elkhorn Corals.  
  • At 2:40-48 A Thalassoma bifaciatum,or “Blue Headed Wrasse” is swimmin’ about. This guy used to be a lady,but he’s a product of Protandric Hermaphrodism! When there’s a paucity of males in the area, a yellow female will step up and become a male for the school.
  • At 3:29 Lower right: a fine example of Millepora complanata,”Fire Coral”. Fire Coral is more related to Man-O-War, and jellyfish than Corals.
  • At 3:50 More Elkhorn Coral with White Plague  
  • At 4:23 Brain Coral, probably Diploria clivosa 

HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL: HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK


HOLE-IN-THE-WALL TO GAP-IN-THE-WALL

HURRICANE SANDY SMASHES ABACO LANDMARK

A ‘heads-up’ from the excellent ABACO SCIENTIST shows the devastating power of a hurricane-force wind, even at Cat 1 level. After centuries, the eponymous Hole-in-the-Wall has been blasted by Sandy into a Gap-in-the-Wall. Abaco has acquired a new islet, as yet to be named (I propose ‘Sandy Isle’… Or maybe ‘Storm Rock’). The photo below is by Justin Sands, and shows the new view of the southeastern extremity of Abaco. There was until recent times a very similar rock formation on Eleuthera, the Glass Window. It, too, was smashed by a storm and a new road bridge had to be built to link the separated parts (see end of post for image).

This is what the same view looked like until last week, with the ‘bridge’ still standing

Here is a very good close shot by well-known and all-knowing Abaco nature guide Ricky Johnson. There won’t be any more photos like this now… You can see what a large amount of combined wind and wave force it must have taken to blow the bridge apart.

The landmark lighthouse and defunct outbuildings at Hole-in-the-Wall sit just north of a promontory, a sort of Land’s End jutting into the ocean between Abaco and New Providence. The road to it is 15 miles of deteriorating surface through the pine forest of the National Park, and is not for the faint-hearted… see TO THE LIGHTHOUSE

A while ago I traced the history of Abaco, and in particular Hole-in-the-Wall, in maps. I got back as far as 1584 for Abaco itself, a map by Ortelius where Abaco appears as ‘Haraco’ and the geographical relationships are… vague.

The first mention of Hole-in-the-Wall that I managed to trace was on a map by Couvens in 1737. The name is shown as ‘Hole in the Rock’, and that name alternated with the present one in both English and French, with variations, until settling on ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ in the c20.

To see the full cartographical post see HISTORY OF ABACO / HOLE IN THE WALL IN MAPS

I also researched the pictorial history of Hole-in-the-Wall. Eventually I came across what may be the first pictorial representation of the Hole in the Wall. It is a fascinating aquatint from 1803 by J. Wells, published in The Naval Review and based on a sketch by a ship’s officer that accompanied a description of the southern end of Abaco for the Review. To put the picture’s age into perspective, it was completed 2 years before Nelson’s decisive victory against the combined French and Spanish navies at Trafalgar.

If you are still awake & would like to see the full post, click HOLE IN THE WALL: 1803 DESCRIPTION & AQUATINT

AN ARTISTIC PUZZLE OF LOCATION ATTRIBUTION – A WORK IN PROGRESS

The other notable depiction of Abaco is a print made by (or in conjunction with) the famous artist Winslow Homer, at the time that he was commissioned to produce work in the Bahamas in the 1880s. This print is the subject of ongoing research by myself and others. It is called ‘On Abaco Island’ and clearly shows the Hole in the Wall as we knew it until last week.

Winslow Homer also produced a well-known painting, the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum, entitled ‘Glass Windows’. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to conclude that the painting is based almost exactly on the view in the print. Even if one ignores the geological evidence (eg the structural detail of the rock at the apex of the arch), note the cloud formations that match perfectly. The print predates and was the template for the painting. If the print was the result of Homer’s time in the Bahamas and an undocumented (?) visit ‘On Abaco Island’, so must the painting be…

However, the Homer / Brooklyn painting ‘Glass Windows’ is generally identified with the similar ‘rock hole’ formation on Eleuthera that is actually known as the Glass Window. As I mentioned earlier, the Eleuthera formation suffered the same fate in a storm, and a new road bridge now connects the two sides.Picture credit http://www.eleuthera-map.com (see also http://www.abacomapbahamas.com)

It isn’t easy to tell whether there is any geological similarity between rock structure in the painting and the Glass Window on Eleuthera. However the contention (mine, anyway) is that the Winslow Homer painting ‘Glass Windows’ is of the Hole in the Wall, Abaco and should be recognised as such. The poignancy of last week’s events at HitW – the loss of a well-loved island feature that can never be replaced – arguably makes the thesis more significant.

One further nugget in support of the case is that I have very recently discovered contemporary written evidence that in the second half of the c19, around the time that Homer was working in the Bahamas, the Hole in the Wall, Abaco was known locally as the ‘glass window’. That would explain Homer’s naming of the painting based on the Abaco print, and strengthens (concludes?) the argument that it is, indeed, of Abaco and not Eleuthera. QED. Repatriate Winslow!