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