SIGNS OF GOOD BREEDING: PIPING PLOVERS IN SUMMER


Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF / wiki)

SIGNS OF GOOD BREEDING: PIPING PLOVERS IN SUMMER

No apologies for writing again about Piping Plovers. This rare bird – only 8000 left in the world – overwinters in Florida, on the Gulf Coast, and to a notable extent in the Bahamas, very possibly on a beach near you. The peacefulness and cleanliness of Abaco’s pristine beaches provide the ideal habitat for the little PIPL to live safe and healthy lives during the winter, in preparation for their return to their summer breeding grounds. And breeding is what they are doing right now, up north. There are breeding populations on the Atlantic Coast, the Great Plains, and the Great Lakes. So I thought I’d feature a few images of what appears to be a rather successful season so far…

One of the best bird blogs around, one that I have recommended before, is called READINGS FROM THE NORTHSIDE. It is written in an informative yet witty style illustrated with excellent photos, and chronicles the daily avian goings-on on Long Beach Island NJ, an important nesting area for piping plovers. There are links with Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger, two scientists from the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ who will be familiar to many Abaconians for the winter work they do with the plovers on Abaco. The photos below have almost all been taken this month as the PIPL chicks hatch and begin to find their feet in a big world.

Piping Plover LBI 1   Piping Plover LBI 2 piping-plover-chick-sneaking-through-dune piping-plover-sit-in-dune

NEWLY HATCHED (TUFTERS’ & TACEY’S 4th CHICK, AMY) piping-plover-wet-chick1

TIDYING THE EGGSHELLpiping-plover-with-eggshell

EGGSHELL REMOVALpiping-plover-remove-eggshell-nest

HAPPY FAMILIES…piping-plover-chick-leaves-nest

MORE HAPPY FAMILIES IMG_0853 IMG_0856 IMG_0855 IMG_0854

BARNEGAT LIGHTHOUSE WITH PIPL IN THE FOREGROUND!IMG_0857

Most regrettably, you’ll never see a Piping Plover chick on Abaco. The adult birds have left the Bahamian beaches and flown north before their breeding season begins. These little creatures are both rare and special at both ends of their migration range, so I’ll end with a video from the most excellent CONCH SALAD TV that is dedicated to these tiny wave-chasers. Abaco is one of the main areas for winter research into the piping plover population. Scientists visit the island to find the birds, count them, collect reports of sightings, check and identify tagged birds to determine their origin, and ensure the continuing good health of their habitat, without which the PIPL will be lost. You can find out more about this vital work carried out out by the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NEW JERSEY HERE.

THE DELICATE TASK OF RINGING TINY BIRDS
lbi-piping-plover-chick

Credits: MLF/ Ontario; Exit63 ‘Mr Norfside’ to whom a major tip o’ the hat; Conch Salad TV

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”


Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”

Driving the Highway south from Marsh Harbour, past the turn-off to Winding Bay and Cherokee, you reach an unassuming side road. This takes you to Casuarina, its gorgeous beach and the canal cut that leads to Cherokee Sound and … bonefish. At the junction you can hardly fail to see the large, time-worn notice for “Different of Abaco“, the former fishing lodge owned by Nettica Symonette. It has been defunct for many years. The lodge buildings are sadly dilapidated and *safety alert* the wooden boards are frail. The grounds are romantically overgrown, and dotted with half-concealed derelict vehicles and machinery rusting away benignly as the seasons pass. The large ponds that must have once been attractive are brackish and uninviting. But guess what! The place is a haven for birds.

Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The most surprising sight is of peafowl – the collective name for peacocks, peahens and peachicks. This flamboyant species was introduced many years ago as a decorative addition to the Lodge and its grounds. It was part of a wider, more ambitious scheme to reintroduce a breeding flock of flamingoes to Abaco. These had regrettably become extirpated from the island and then, as now, were only found as vagrant individuals. The attempt sadly failed and the flamingoes disappeared. Rumours sometimes surface of breeding pairs far out on the Marls or in a secluded place in the far south of the island, but these remain unsubstantiated. The peafowl introduction, however, has proved to be an unexpected success.

Peacock, with bizarre graffiti addressed to Santa ClausFeral Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Peahen in the garden of “Different of Abaco”Peahen, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

Peacocks swaggering in the grounds: note the fully feathered tails (cf photo #2  above)Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 1Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 3

The compilation of “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” involved plenty of decision-making. We obviously couldn’t feature every recorded species – for a start, for many species there were merely reports of sightings but no (or only inadequate) photographs. One interesting factor for consideration was the stage at which an introduced species becomes bird OF Abaco as opposed to a non-indigenous bird that happens to be IN Abaco.

1610795_10152397349768720_8542277013207863186_n10345763_10152398046303720_8315779621600880072_n10524740_10152397350053720_2270412119470328978_n10306740_10152397712968720_2616129013617847509_n    10647090_10152398010393720_8268702990135221309_n

Rhonda Pearce’s Peafowl Gallery (NB peachicks included!) above demonstrates why this species was an easy choice for inclusion. On the assumption that the original birds were brought to the Lodge in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the chicks you see here must be several generations down the line. A breeding population has been established in the wild, as the grounds of D of A have become. The evidence is that it is spreading slowly – across the road, further into the settlement at Casuarina and recently even further afield.

Celia Rogers photographed this cluster of peahens in Casuarina – but the two males were on the road to Cherokee, maybe 3 or 4 miles distance to the north as the peacock struts

Peahens, Casuarina (Celia Rogers)Peacocks (Cherokee Road)  Abaco (Celia Rogers)

So that’s how the feral peacocks of Abaco come to be classified (in a purely unofficial way) as birds OF Abaco for the purposes of the book**. Once they would have been viewed as pets – like the muscovy ducks that can be found in a few places, Gilpin Point for example. But in the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact.

**That, and the fact that Mrs RH borrowed my camera and undeniably took the best photos of the male and female birds (#1 and #4 above), as seen on pp 70-71 of the book…

Peacock, Abaco (Liann Key Kaighin) 1

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: Mrs RH (1, 4); RH (2, 3); Nina Henry (5, 6); Rhonda Pearce (7 – 11); Celia Rogers (12, 13); Liann Key Kaighin (14); added final image π “The Abacos” online

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…


Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (2): SPOTTED IN THE BAHAMAS…

I’ve been neglecting the moray eels. It’s ages since I did a post about them, and it’s time to put that right. Specifically, time to take a look at Spotted Morays Gymnothorax moringa. These eels can grow up to 2 meters, and live mainly in the sub-tropical waters of the Atlantic. They are solitary creatures, most often seen with just their heads protruding from holes and fissures reefs and r0cks. They have interesting dental arrangements (see below) and their bite is one that, all things being equal, is probably best avoided… Here’s what to look for.

ADULT SPOTTED MORAYSSpotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

TOOTHSOME CRITTERS (FANGS FOR THE MEMORY…)Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba) Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

WICKLE BABY MORAY. MORAYKIN?BABY Spotted Moray Eel, Bahamas (Melinda Riger Grand Bahama Scuba)

Photo credits: all amazing photos courtesy of Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Props to ‘Earl the Eel’ who appears in some of them!

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY


Kildeer, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY

The KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus is a fairly common winter resident plover on Abaco. They can often be found on the Delphi beach, and the lovely beach at Casuarina is another place to spot them. They can easily be distinguished from other plover species, being the only ones with two black frontal bands – see above and below. The lower picture, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not the fabled ‘legless killdeer’, but is simply having a little rest on a nice warm wall.

Killdeer, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The killdeer’s name is a bit of a puzzle, frankly. The Latin term Charadrius vociferus basically means “shouty plover”, but it’s a long way from that to “killdeer”. This is another one of those bird names that are allegedly onomatopoeic – and thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with savage behaviour involving Bambi and his ilk (or elk, even). Supposedly the killdeer call is “Kill…Deer”, in the same way as the bobwhite calls an interrogative “Bob…White?”. 

Killdeer - Harrold & Wilson Ponds, NP (Rick Lowe) copy

Consulting some random authorities reveals divergence of opinion on the issue, with definite bet-hedging between ‘kill-dee’ variations and ‘dee dee dees’. Except for Messrs Flieg & Sanders who opine (rudely) ‘the shrill, loud, monotonous call resembles its name’. Yet while I completely get the ‘Bob…White?’ thing, I’m not so sure with the killdeer. Were I a little killdeer, it’s a name I’d like to have anyway. Respect! But what do these sound like to you?

or this

Guillermo Funes Xeno Canto

or this

Peter Boesman Xeno CantoKIlldeer (Danny Sauvageau)

I’ve mentioned the distinctive double black breast-bands that distinguish the killdeer from its brother plovers. These can be seen at quite a distance, as this shot on the Delphi beach by Mrs RH shows (the tracks are from Smithy’s seaweed-clearing tractor).

Killdeer SS edits

The babies are, like all plover chicks, totes irresistibz munchkinsKilldeer hatchling (NTox)Killdeer FB

And like other plovers, a killdeer will defend its nest and young with a broken wing display to distract predators, lurching pathetically across the sand, moving ever further away from the nest. 

I think we can safely conclude that, while the bird doesn’t quite live up to the cervidae-cidal tendencies suggested by its name, nor even sound particularly as though it is saying “killdeer”, it is a very attractive plover to have around whatever the heck its call may resemble.Killdeer, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Rick Lowe, Danny Sauvageau, Mrs RH, NTox, Very Recent FB & I’ll track down the source if it kills me**, Erik Gauger

** Got it now: The very excellent Mike Bizeau, whose on his wonderful NATUREHASNOBOSS website posts a single daily image. Many are birds, some are landscapes, some are other things that have caught his eye. I get a daily email, and am invariably impressed by the quality of the images…

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


Winslow Homer G W Original Brooklyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE FUTURE

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

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

WINSLOW HOMER

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

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

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

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP


Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

NORTHERN PINTAILS ON ABACO: LOOKING SHARP

The Northern Pintail Anas acuta is a relatively rare winter resident dabbling duck on Abaco. The species has a huge range, being found throughout much of the northern hemisphere. 

DABBLING DUCKS – PINTAILS UPNorthern Pintails (M & F) Up-ending (J M Garg)jpg

The ‘acuta’ in the Latin name refers to the characteristic sharp ‘pin tail’. As so often, the drake is a somewhat flashy specimen while the female is unassuming or, as some sources harshly put it, dull and drab. And while the drake makes a melodious whistle, the female simply quacks or croaks.

FLASHY MALENorthern Pintail, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

DULL & DRAB FEMALE? DEBATABLE!Northern Pintail (f), Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Northern Pintail (f) x 4 (Woody Bracey)

Northern Pintails form flocks and are happy to mix with other species.  Their long necks give the edge over similarly-sized dabbling ducks such as the mallard, enabling them to reach deeper down in the water to feed.

Northern Pintail PM IMG_5342 copy 2

THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Predation of nests and chicks by animals and birds such as birds of prey and (some) gulls
  • Parasites including worms and lice, to which they seem to be susceptible; and avian diseases including bird ‘flu
  • Hunting: they are a good target species being swift and agile in the air (for sport) yet quite large (for success rate). Also, delicious (for dinner).
  • Lead poisoning from shot or angling tackle, research has shown. A major problem with all bottom-feeders, though improved where laws prohibiting lead shot have been introduced
  • Loss of wetland areas to agriculture or due to habitat or climate changes

Northern Pintail, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

On Abaco, Northern Pintails arrive in the autumn and leave as spring approaches. They are most likely to be found on ponds such as the one at Treasure Cay Golf Course, where I photographed the male; and at Gilpin Point where I spotted the lone female (at a distance). Below are both genders together for comparison (NB not taken on Abaco). 

BREEDING TIME

Mating is aquatic, by the usual anatine method in which the female lowers herself in the water to indicate her agreement to the proposal whereupon the male tries to drown her. Apparently after mating, the male raises his head and whistles – whether as a signal that it’s all over or exaltation or relief has not been researched. Yet. 

Northern Pintails (M & F) J M Garg

 RELATED POSTS

BAHAMA (WHITE-CHEEKED) PINTAIL

BAHAMA PINTAIL PAGE

Credits: RH x 3, Peter Mantle x 1, Tony Hepburn x 1, Woody Bracey x 1, J M Garg x 2, Birdorable 

        northern-pintail        northern-pintail        northern-pintail

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) (4): BATFISH


Batfish (Brenda Bowling, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 3: BATFISH

That’s ‘Batfish’ (or strictly, Batfishes, for there are some 60 species worldwide), as in one of the weirdest, most alien underwater creatures you may ever encounter. As opposed to ‘Bait Fish’, those little silvery specimens that are so attractive to predator fish higher up the food chain – the ones fishermen might be interested in… And the Batfish has no connection at all with Bruce Wayne of Wayne Manor, Gotham City nor with his sidekick Robin. Batfish (Brenda Bowling, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department) I mention this bizarre-looking and -acting creature because two have recently been seen and photographed in Abaco waters and although I’d heard of the batfish and even knew vaguely what one looked like, I was quite unprepared for the real thing. Ellen Sokol is a Captain for Kiskeedee Sailing Charters which during the summer is based in the Abacos and which amongst other things gives youngsters the opportunity to snorkel and to learn about undersea life. Ellen says: “I was snorkelling when I saw this thing on the bottom.  At first, I thought it was a dead bird!  It wasn’t moving at all even when I touched it with my flipper.  Later when I read about this fish I learned that it sits motionless and uses the long nose to attract prey.  I suppose that is exactly what it was doing when I rudely interrupted it! I later researched, and found it to be a spotted batfish”.   Because they had no underwater camera on board, Ellen’s son gently scooped it up in a net so they could take a quick photo of the fish before returning it. Quick thinking! Batfish, Abaco 1 (Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing)Batfish, Abaco 3 (Ellen Sokol, Kiskeedee Sailing) The other recent sighting was posted with a photo on FB within the last 3 weeks. It must have been by someone with whom I am ‘Friends’ or who I follow, and at the time I thought it remarkable and dragged out the image. Usually I note the source but this time I stupidly failed to do so. I’ve scrolled back through FB but I have several hundred friends, many posting much of the time, so the search was fruitless. I’m therefore posting the excellent pic with a promise to take it down if there is an objection, and in the hope that whoever made the sighting will say ‘hi’ and I can credit him, her or them appropriately… For what it’s worth, I think this one may be a short nosed batfish. STOP PRESS Ellen Sokol has now reminded me of the source of this image – the excellent CRUISE ABACO. So apologies to them for lack of attribution in the first place… Batfish (?Shortnose), Abaco Waters (FB, source unclear)

10 OGCOCEPHALIDAE (BATFISH) FACTS TO TREASURE

  • There are some 60 species of batfishes worldwide
  • They live in warm and temperate seas, including the waters of the Bahamas
  • An adult batfish is 12″ – 14″ in length
  • Their bodies are generally lumpy, with some hard spines
  • Some have a long, upturned snout. Others have bright red ‘lipstick lips’
  • They are rubbish swimmers, and often ‘walk’ on their limb-like pectoral and pelvic fins
  • Most species are deep sea denizens but some (short nose, spotted) inhabit shallower water
  • The fleshy snout above the mouth lures prey close enough to its jaws to eat
  • The batfish is becoming increasingly rare worldwide, and is considered to be endangered
  • Only the word ‘Logcock’ (pileated woodpecker) contains the initial 4 letters of Ogcocephalidae 

 CAN YOU SHOW ME SOME MORE EXAMPLES OF THIS INTRIGUING FISH?

By all means. Here are some images of other batfish species – red-lipped, long nosed, short nosed – each peculiar in its own way. You’ll see their preferred, most unfishlike method for getting around.

13179-004-429B61E0Red_lipped batfish (Barry Peters) Ogcocephalus_parvus Undersearch Research Program (NURP)Long-nosed Batfish Wiki

Shortnose Batfish Divephotoguide.com Eric Reich

Q. PLEASE MAY I SEE A VIDEO OF A BATFISH? A. YES. TWO.

“Heather Ashcraft found this very rare short-nosed bat fish on Eleuthera, Bahamas Sept 17 2013. It is a very strange (almost alien) looking combination of bat, frog, bird, and fish. The pelvic fins are used for walking on the ocean floor… Above the bat face is a horn (or beak)…”

“Taken at Coco Cay, Bahamas, April 29, 2014. At first we had no Idea what we were looking at… one of the weirdest things we had ever seen. Apparently they are rare. Even some of the locals had no idea what we were describing”

Credits: Header image courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (Brenda Bowling); Ellen Sokol and Kiskeedee Sailing Charters; Unknown but appreciated FB poster; Wiki, Barry Peters, NURP, Eric Reisch; Youtubers x 2; Petersen, Arkive, and sundry magpie pickings…