ABACO PARROTS: BRIGHT GREEN, RED & BLUE = HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Pair (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROTS: BRIGHT GREEN, RED & BLUE = HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU

Painted buntings in the last post. And now some Abaco parrots. To adopt the joyous strangled yell of Noddy Holder (Slade, 1973, “Merry Christmas Everybody”)** “It’s….. CHRISTMASSSSSSS“. Abaco’s famous and unique ground-nesting parrots are about as seasonally festive as you could wish for. Bright, colourful, noisy and impossible to ignore. The run-up to Christmas is the perfect moment for a gallery of these fine birds that are making a very promising recovery from near-extinction thanks to intensive conservation measures over the last few years. There’s a caption competition at the end, too. Post your idea as a comment and there even may be something it it for the winner…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Pair (Melissa Maura)Abaco Parrots (Peter Mantle)Abaco Parrot (Keith Salvesen)Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Craig Nash)

INTERMISSION

Abaco / Cuban Parrot (Bruce Hallett)Abaco Parrot eating Gumbo Limbo fruit. Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

CAPTION COMPETITION

It’s Christmas. Season of Good Will. But what on earth is going on here…?Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Pair (Melissa Maura)

Credits: Melissa Maura (1, 2, 9), Peter Mantle (3), Keith Salvesen / RH (4, 8), Craig Nash (5), Bruce Hallett (6), Tom Sheley (7); Audio recorded by RH & Mrs RH at Bahamas Palm Shores

**  FESTIVE MUSICAL DIGRESSION (OPTIONAL)

[youtube https://youtu.be/0A8KT365wlA]

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL BUNTING FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS


Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheleyimagesimagesimagesimages

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL BUNTING FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

[Yay! A Christmas gift of a puntastic avian / festive double-meaning]
  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

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PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)
Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

It’s hard to imagine a more Christmasy little bird than the Painted Bunting. Bright blue, red, green primary colours make for a spectacular small bird to grace any garden or feeder. There are other bunting species and close relations – e.g. grosbeaks – on Abaco. A common factor is the little fat beak and voracious seed greed…

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

Feeders at the Delphi Club. The first is of a female & a male PABU feeding together (RH). The second is a male PABU with a pair of black-faced grassquits (Sandy Walker)Painted Buntings (M & F), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Painted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

                                                        painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

The next two wonderful photos are by Tom Sheley, a major photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. They were taken in Texas, not on Abaco, but I include them because of Tom’s strong connection with the birdlife of Abaco; and because on any view they are fantastic shots…
Painted Bunting reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 7, 8), Erik Gauger (2), Tara Lavallee (3, 4), Keith Salvesen (5) Sandy Walker (6); Birdorable Cartoons

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TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO


Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 10 (Keith Salvesen)

TRI-COLORED HERON HUFFS SNOWY EGRET: GILPIN POND, ABACO

We were at Gilpin Pond to watch for Herons and Egrets. Bahama Pintails were a given, Black-necked Stilts were likely – but one never quite knows what Ardeidae will turn up. There was a snowy egret fishing peacefully at the north end of the pond. We were a little way off, on a small wooden jetty. Slowly and rather deliberately a tri-colored wandered right through the Egret’s hunting area. It wasn’t looking for food, and it certainly wasn’t in a hurry. 

Heron wading through my fishing spot? Like I care? [Yes. You really do]Snowy Egret with Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

I regret to say that Snowy threw a bit of a strop. Having been hunched and intent on his hunting, he became distracted and palpably upset. It was just… the heron’s meander right past his beak was a bit to much for any self-respecting egret to tolerate. This is how it went, as the heron moved very slowly forwards…

A bad hair day – but gradually regaining composure…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 3 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

Then the heron got out of the water… out of the way. You’d think.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

Not to be outdone, the egret followed behind, no doubt muttering crossly…Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 6 (Keith Salvesen)

…and hopped up onto a dead tree stump, where it stood rather forlornlySnowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 8 (Keith Salvesen)Snowy Egret, Gilpin Pond Abaco 9 (Keith Salvesen)

At which point the heron flew off and perched high up on a dead branch. I swear I heard it laugh.Tri-colored Heron, Gilpin Pond Abaco 4 (Keith Salvesen)

All photos RH. All anthropomorphic interpretations, too.

BAHAMAS REEF CORAL: A COLOURFUL GALLERY


Orange Cup Coral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

BAHAMAS REEF CORAL:  A COLOURFUL GALLERY

The reefs of the northern Bahamas, as elsewhere in the world, are affected by two significant factors: climate change and pollution. Stepping carefully over the sharp pointy rocks of controversy, I’ve avoided the term ‘global warming’ and any associated implication that humans (oh, and methane from cows) are largely to blame for the first factor; but on any view, ocean pollution is the responsibility of mankind (and not even the cows). 

That said, an exploration of the reefs of Abaco or Grand Bahama will reveal not just the astounding variety of mobile marine life but also the plentiful and colourful static marine life – for example the beautiful and Christmassy orange cup coral in the header image. Here are some more corals from the reefs, with a mix of sponges added in. 

Giant Star Coral & Rope Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyCorals ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Corals ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copySea Fans & other corals ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

This rather intriguing photo shows a hermit crab’s conch home that presumably the occupant grew out of and left behind in the delicate coral branches as it went search of a more spacious shell dwelling.Coral & conch ex crab home 1380179_645156602172399_300806994_n copy

Credits: All these wonderful photos are by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; tendentious reef health observations are mine own…

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” (A PIPING PLOVER STORY)


PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” (A PIPING PLOVER STORY)

by ROWLING HARBOUR

It was a bright sunny morning and the sand on the beach was warm under Harry Potter’s bare feet. Although by now a very experienced flyer, his recent adventures during his epic 1000-mile journey had left him very tired. All his friends that had undertaken the same long flight were tired too. Now they were enjoying a quiet, peaceful time away from all the dangers they had somehow survived during their scary expedition (see Harry Potter and the Migration of Fear). It would be a long time, Harry said to himself – maybe as long as 6 months – before he wanted to have another experience like that. He wondered when Ron Piper and Hermione Plover would arrive. He hadn’t even found them yet… 

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

But the little group on a remote shoreline on Abaco were not as safe as they thought. Unknown to the happy, sleepy plovers on the beach, they were already being stalked by two creatures. This determined pair had one sole aim – to find plovers, to catch them and to carry out scientific experiments on them. That’s three aims, in fact. The editor would surely fix that error later (No – ed.). Would Harry and his friends soon find themselves in mortal peril from these formidable adversaries, these beasts with huge brains, armed with the latest technology? What magical powers would be needed to combat the imminent danger creeping stealthily towards them? The male definitely had a spine-chilling look about him; the female appeared less daunting – but might therefore be all the more dangerous…

TOPO & STEG PIC JPG   piping-plover

Suddenly, Harry felt a sense of danger. Fear ruffled his neck feathers and his little left foot started drumming impatiently on the sand. He’d felt like this several times before, like that time the Dark Lord had driven a SUV straight at him on that nesting beach many miles away, the one where he cracked out (see Harry Potter and the Vehicle of Dread). And when the massive dog came and sniffed round the nest when he was a tiny chick (see Harry Potter and the Hound of Horror). Instinctively, he grabbed a magic meat-string from the damp sand, ate it, and took to the air… only to be caught up in some sort of fearsome spider’s web (a mist net – ed.). He was trapped. He struggled bravely, peeping out his anger at this cruel trick. But it was no good – he was caught fast, and wriggling only seemed to make it even worse. The massive creatures were running towards him fast, shouting in triumph – they had got Harry exactly where they wanted him – at their mercy…

A Mist Net (if unsuccessful, A Missed Net)Mist Net jpg

Just as Harry had started to believe that his last moment had arrived, an amazing thing happened. Instead of dispatching him with a swift blow to head, as the Dark Lord might have done, he was gently removed from the net and softly held in the female’s hands. His instant fear that she might crush him to a horrible mangled pulp rapidly lessened. Why, she was even talking to him. And those voices. They sounded not so much fearsome as friendly. But were they lulling him into  false sense of security, only to wreak an evil vengeance upon him? (*Spoiler Alert* No – ed.).

The Steph of Egger with captive Harry Potter, & wearing the cap of the mysterious ‘Delphi Club’1484646_10205144305680789_2528266936610237451_n

Then suddenly things got worse. Much worse. Harry was slowly wrapped in a large white blanket and laid on something that wasn’t sand. Something hard. What were they planning to do with him now. He heard the male – Harry had now concluded that he must be dealing with the Avian Overlord himself, the infamous Todd of Pover, first cousin of Severus Snipe – mutter an incantation: “54 grams. Pretty good. 54 grams. Have you got that”. Yes, they’d taken his dignity and his weight but there had been no pain. Yet. Harry began to relax a little.

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Meanwhile, Steph the Egger was making a strange rattling sound. As Harry was unwound from his shroud he suddenly saw a box filled to the brim with exotic jewels of the most opulent colours glistening in the sunlight. At once, he knew he had to have one of them. A beautiful pink one. One to wear on his leg. One that he could keep for ever. One that would always mean ‘Harry Potter’. That very one on the top. Just there. With the magic number 22 on it in black writing. And Harry started to breathe a special silent Piping Spell: ‘Please pick me up… in your hand… and fit the Magic Two-Two Band…’ 

10953155_10205138160647167_6364662204306663309_n

And, miraculously, the spell began to work. First, Harry was gently held as the Magic Band was put round his right leg. At the top, just where he wanted it. Harry shut one eye and repeated the spell.18265_10205144276640063_342488571243728001_n

Then despite an awful wound from an earlier battle, the Todd of Pover made sure the band was secure and would never come off. It would be there forever – the Harry Potter ID band. By this time Harry didn’t even mind the indignity of being turned upside down.1688061_10205144276200052_1782966976770605282_n

Finally, it was done. Really, the jewel was more like a flag than a band. But Harry knew instinctively that it would take a massive effort for his story to be rewritten to make this clear from the start, so he decided to let it pass. Band. Flag. What did it matter. It was his prize, gloriously his. 

And then he was passed to Steph the Egger. Harry presumed she got her name for her ability to find nesting birds in that other place he had flown South from. And now, here she was, holding him tenderly, talking to him and telling him how cool he looked. Even her bright red claws did not seem so frightening now. Except… WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?

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Suddenly, Steph the Egger stood up and Harry found himself several feet above the safe warm sand. Steph held him out in front of her and then, in an instant, he was free… Free to fly away with his beautiful pink jewel band, his special number, and an intuition that wherever he might be, and whoever saw him, they would always know that he was Harry Potter for as long as he lived. Against all odds he had gained… THE MAGIC BAND.

10931116_10205144276720065_5757419875474692020_n

piping-plover

POSTSCRIPT

No one knows when Harry Potter left Abaco last spring, nor where he spent his Summer. All that can be said with certainty is that 12 months later he was found again on the same beach, Long Beach Abaco, in the same place. 5 other PIPL were pink-banded with him last year by the National Audubon, Virginia Tech, BNT, and CWFNJ team (pink being the colour used for Bahamas birds). Of those 6, 5 have been resighted on the same beach in the last few days. They migrated north last Spring, spent the Summer probably in different locations yet found their way back to the same place on Abaco to overwinter together again.

GENDER NOTE In fact it isn’t clear if HP is male or female (see below). He might be Harriet Potter. But I have played safe and stuck with the gender implied by his given name…

Harry Potter Pink 22 UR on Long Beach Abaco, 3 Dec 2015, a year after he was banded therePIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 1 (Stephanie Egger) copy PIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 2 (Stephanie Egger) copy

STEPH THE EGGER EXPLAINS THE NAME, NUMBER & QUIDDITCH PIC

“I helped band this piping plover last winter, and called him “Harry Potter.” I know 22 isn’t Harry’s quidditch number (07), but 22 is for my birthday when I mostly seem to be down in Abaco. We don’t know where Harry Potter bred this year as no reports came in for him (or her). Maybe next season!

DISCLAIMER RE HEADER IMAGE I don’t suggest making silly photos of all “named” birds as this is an endangered species that we should certainly take very seriously. That said, I do think that names help people connect to the species and it also aids the researchers in id’ing (my personal opinion)”.

piping-plover

Credits: Stephanie Egger, Todd Pover, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey & co-banding teams, USFWS Mountain-Prairie (PIPL in flight), Birdorable, Rowling Harbour, and star of the show Harry Potter Pink 22 UR. Apologies to JKR for feeble pastiche.

“CATCHING THE EYE”: OYSTERCATCHERS (+ BONUS ID TIPS)


American Oystercatcher AMOY eye close-up (Todd Pover / CWFNJ)

 “CATCHING THE EYE”: OYSTERCATCHERS (+ BONUS ID TIP)

I’m focusing (ha!) on oystercatcher eyes today. Like the extraordinary one in the header image. Notice the bright orangey-red ‘orbital ring’, the egg-yolk-reminiscent eye and the pitch black iris. An eye-catching and unmistakeable feature of this handsome black and white shorebird, the American Oystercatcher.

Here’s another AMOY eye, with a different smudge of black by the iris. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that AMOY specialists are able to ID individual birds at least in part by their different eye markings. And you can see that the eye-ring smartly matches the beak into the bargain.

American Oystercatcher AMOY eye close-up (Todd Pover / CWFNJ)

This wonderful photograph of a loving AMOY pair with their precious egg safely encircled by a rocky nest was taken on LBI, NJ by Northside Jim, whose amazing photos I sometimes include. See how brightly the eyes of each bird stand out, like tiny archery targets.american-oystercatcher-t2-eggs (Northside Jim : Exit 63)

“The World is Mine Oyster”

The AMOY shot below was generously put on Wiki by Dan Pancamo. He captioned it perfectly.The world's mine oyster - American Oystercatcher AMOY (Dan Pancamo Wiki)

OYSTERCATCHER ID TIPS

A while ago, when I was choosing AMOY photographs for publication, I idly wondered what was the difference between them and Eurasian Oystercatchers (yes, yes, I hear you – apart from geographical, I mean…). At a first comparative glance, to me they looked remarkably similar in coloration and size. Assuming both species were to be discovered on the same shoreline, how best might one distinguish them? The main differences seemed to be:

  • Leg colouring differs, AMOY legs being generally pale pink as opposed to the stronger coloured legs of the EUROY (if they can be called that). However there are considerable EUROY variations (see below), from pink to orange to reddish, that are presumably seasonal. The leg colour, assuming they are visible to the watcher, is not quite a definitive identifier.
  • Both species have black heads and necks, but the AMOY’s back plumage shades to dark brown. But how distinctive would that be in low light or indifferent weather?
  • Mrs RH, looking over my shoulder, saw it at once: the eyes. If you can see the eyes, you can tell instantly what make of OY you are looking at*. Here are a some Eurasian Oystercatchers showing their own distinctively red eyes and orbital rings.

Eurasian Oystercatcher (Elis Simpson)Eurasian Oystercatcher - Haematopus ostralegus (Elis Simpson)Haematopus_ostralegus_-Scotland_(Snowmanradio / wiki)

As so often, I have since found that the excellent Birdorable site has nailed the differences clearly and simply. Eye colour, leg colour and – less obviously – the AMOY’s brownish back as opposed to the EUROY’s entirely black and white body. Sorted.

american-oystercatcher (Birdorable) eurasian-oystercatcher (Birdorable)

RECOMMENDED SHOREBIRD SITE WADER QUEST

*I realise there are a number of other oystercatcher species around the world, but for obvious reasons they don’t really come into consideration for present purposes…

Credits: Todd Pover / CWFNJ (1, 2); Northside Jim EXIT63 (3); Dan Pancamo (4); Elis Simpson / Wader Quest (5, 6); snowmanradio / wiki (7); Wader Quest, Birdorable, magpie pickings and Mrs RH for sharp… er… eyes

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) (5): THE FILEFISH


Scrawled Filefish ©Melinda Riger @ GBS

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH) 5: THE FILEFISH

The jocularly-named WTF? series is designed to shed an underwater spotlight on some of the odder denizens of the coral reefs and surrounding waters. I don’t want to earn a reputation for being ‘lookist’, but frankly the appearance of some of these creatures – I give you BATFISH or FROGFISH or REMORAS as examples – is baffling. The filefish group is not as extreme as some in the downright weird category, but if you see one you might just find yourself muttering into your facemask “wtf?”

Scrawled Filefish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Filefish (Monacanthidae) are found in tropical and subtropical oceans worldwide. They are related to triggerfish, trunkfish and pufferfish, and have regional names that include leatherjacket, foolfish, and shingle. There are more than 100 species of filefish, of which only a few are found in Bahamian waters. The species featured here are a mix of scrawled, white-spotted and orange-spotted filefish.

Filefish White-spotted ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

HOW DID THEY GET THE NAME?

In the image above, you can just see a flattened spine on top, above the eye and pointing backwards. This is the ‘retracted’ state. There is a small secondary spine that serves to prop up the main spine when it is in the upright position. This is it seems, the file – although the Greek-derived family name Monacanthidae literally means ‘one thorn’. So why isn’t it a thornfish, you may well ask. And I may well not respond.

This filefish’s ‘spine’ seems to have flopped over to one sideWhite Spotted File fish

These fish have snouts with small mouths and specialized teeth with an inner and outer set on each jaw. They are to an extent shapeshifters, and can quickly make themselves appear larger for defensive purposes. In some individual species, there are marked differences in body shape and coloration.

An orange-spotted filefish with its spine erect, making for a cave – a place of safetyFilefish, Orange Spotted ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The fins of a filefish are small, and they are rather sedate swimmers. Sometimes they simply like to drift with their heads pointed downwards, eyeing patches of seagrass or seaweed for prey. Some species are largely vegetarian. Others eat small invertebrates. Some even feed on corals. Their predators – especially  the juveniles –  include tuna and dolphins (mahi-mahi).
ADDITION Capt Rick Guest has helpfully expanded on juvenile filefish: “The juveniles hang under sea weed and flotsam eating small shrimps and crabs there. They, in turn become food for Mahi and other pelagic fish. The main thing with these guys is that the bigger they are, the more likely they are to be Ciguateric”.
220px-Coryphaena_hippurus
At his suggestion I will write a post about the  problem of the Ciguatera disease when I have had some time to do the research.

Scrawled File Fish

ARE THEY EDIBLE?

Good question. The answer, broadly is yes, though I don’t know if that applies to all species of filefish. They are certainly eaten in large quantities in the Far East. I don’t know about the Bahamas or the wider Caribbean. If anyone does, could you very kindly add a comment to this post. Recipes welcome!

Scrawled Filefish

All photos: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba