SHEARWATERS ON ABACO: SAD TALES FROM THE SEA


GREAT SHEARWATER Puffinus gravis (Patrick Coin Wiki)

SHEARWATERS ON ABACO: SAD TALES FROM THE SEA

We do not generally do sad or sombre at Rolling Harbour. It’s a beautiful and happy place, and the Delphi Club is a haven of good fellowship and good craic (stemming no doubt from its Irish connections). But I have to report on a sad occurrence on the beach at Delphi and, as it turns out, at many other Abaco locations (and beyond) during June – a notable number of shearwaters being found dying or dead on beaches or else in the sea, their bodies in due course being washed in on the tide.

There are quite a few species of shearwater worldwide, of which 5 are recorded for Abaco. The only permanent breeding resident is the Audubon’s Shearwater, a bird that is quite commonly seen out at sea though not, I imagine, on land. We never managed to obtain a photo of one for “The Birds of Abaco”. I presume there are breeding colonies on Abaco, but not that I have heard about.

Shearwater Checklist, Abaco

As the checklist above shows, three of the other shearwaters are rare transients. These birds fly long migration routes over the ocean and so the casual birder is in practice unlikely to encounter one, let alone get a photograph. The Manx can be ignored as an aberration – the V5 means that one or two vagrant individuals have been recorded since (say) 1950. Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis - Patrick Coin Wiki

My first inkling that something unusual was occurring came a week ago from a FB post by Melissa Maura, whose wonderful parrot and flamingo photos feature elsewhere in these pages. She said …on my rugged Abaco ocean beach last week, were many dead magnificent seabirds – greater shearwaters (about 5) and a couple of Frigate birds… They didn’t appear to wash in on the waves, but appeared to have perished perhaps from exhaustion on the beach”.  Various later comments suggested that this phenomenon had been noted periodically in the past, the last time 4 or 5 years ago. 

Great Shearwater (dec'), Abaco (Melissa Maura)

This was followed a couple of days later by evidence from well-known birding maestro Woody Bracey that living great shearwaters were in Abaco waters, perhaps confirming that they are in mid-migration at the moment. The one in #2 was “caught” 3 miles off Great Guana Cay.

Great Shearwater Abaco (Woody Bracey)Great Shearwater, Abaco boated (Woody Bracey)

Then a couple of days ago Jane Mantle emailed me with photos of some dead birds on the beach at Delphi saying that half- dead birds are washing up on the beach ‘only for the vultures to finish off’.  We must have over 20 with more to come”. I circulated these to the ‘usual suspects’ for ID and comment.

Great Shearwater, Abaco (dec'd) (Jane Mantle)Great Shearwater, Abaco (dec'd) (Jane Mantle)

I also posted the photos on my RH FB to see if others had seen anything similar. Many thanks to all those who ‘liked’, shared or commented on the post. Here is a summary of the responses, from which a pretty clear picture emerges of widespread recent shearwater deaths on Abaco mainland and Cays.

  • Delphi Club Beach – 20 plus
  • Bahama Palm Shores – ‘many many’ dead birds washed up on the shore
  • Casuarina Beach – 1
  • Cherokee (Watching Bay) – 3 or 4
  • Cherokee (Winding Bay) – 4
  • Marsh Harbour area – about 5
  • Great Guana Cay, southern end   – 1 (possibly a gull)
  • Tilloo Cay – 13 at least on Junk Beach, more than ever seen (see photos below)
  • Elbow Cay – 2 + 1 Atlantic side beach near Abaco Inn
  • Elbow Cay – 2, North End
  • Green Turtle Cay beach – 2
  • Green Turtle Cay, offshore – “a lot in the water”
  • Man-o-War Cay – 1 by the roadside
  • Ocean 20m from HT Lighthouse – 2 in the sea

also Exuma Sound (5 birds), Briland Beach Harbour Island (“some”) and Shroud Cay (gull?”)

SIGHTINGS MAP, ABACO AS AT 09.00 JUNE 25 (2X click to enlarge)
Shearwater Map, Abaco

Shearwaters at Tilloo Cay (Janie Thompson)

Great Shearwater (dec'd) Tilloo Cay Abaco988563_780040245445527_87776362163085216_n10429826_780040222112196_5624095942981629125_n

Shearwaters on Elbow Cay (Rudolf Verspoor)

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WHAT SORT OF SHEARWATERS ARE THESE?

In the main it looks and sounds as though these are migrating great shearwaters. Woody Bracey has identified several dead birds as ‘greats’ from photos, and one as an alive Cory’s shearwater swimming in the sea off the Delphi Beach. ID is not easy, and a few of the birds found may be gulls. It’s possible that there are some Audubon’s shearwaters among the stricken birds, although since they are resident to Abaco that would go against the theory of an exhausted migratory species that has been blown of course en masse.

Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis (JJ Harrison Wiki)

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS THINK?

There are a few obvious contenders for the solution to the riddle of the shearwaters, ranging from the frontrunner migration exhaustion to disease and trash ingestion. The evidence of mass deaths over a wide geographical area during a short time probably rules out trash ingestion – although I’m sure the poor creatures must have plenty of plastic bits inside them. Mass disease striking suddenly over one area is seems unlikely. Once those two possibilities are ruled out, the primary cause, covering most instances of the sad and upsetting phenomenon, becomes clearer.

Lynn Gape of BNT posted the view of William Mackin, a seabird biologist who looked at some of the photos and wrote “The five birds look like greater shearwaters. They breed at Gough Island in the South Atlantic. The young begin life by flying 10000 miles to Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. Some do not make it. They wash up on eastern US and Bahamian beaches. It is sad. We should monitor the numbers. The frequency is variable but possibly increasing.”

Tony White, the omniscient Recorder of Bahamas Birds and compiler of the comprehensive and authoritative checklist for the area, writes: 

“The dead birds on the beach (and in the water) is a phenomenon that happens every five to ten years. According to the late Dave Lee these are young Great Shearwaters migrating from their natal home in the South Atlantic to their feeding grounds off the US and Canada, Combination of poor food supply and wind conditions in the doldrums lead to their expending all their energy and expiring. It is a normal event for this species and has been recorded many times The Great Shearwater population appears to weather the bad years and do well in the good years. Relevant articles are: Lee, D.S. 2009. Mass die-offs of Greater Shearwater in the Western North Atlantic: Effects of weather patterns on mortality of a trans-equatorial migrant. Chat 73(2):37; Seabird Ecological Assessment Network. 2007. Greater Shearwater Die-off in the Atlantic: June-July 2007. Volunteer Newsletter 3(2):2; and Watson, George. 1970. A Shearwater Mortality on the Atlantic Coast.  Atlantic Naturalist 25(2):75-80.

Woody Bracey has now left an informative and perceptive comment: “It’s amazing how far(10,000 miles) these young birds have to travel to their feeding grounds so soon after being fledged. Breeding colonies are on isolated subantarctic islands of the southern hemisphere. Breeding begins in October. Incubation of the single egg lasts 55 days and it is another 105 days until the chick is ready to fly. Each loss of a bird represents much time and effort of a pair to produce a single chick which then has to fly the gauntlet through the windless, often foodless doldrums to reach its northern feeding grounds. So many hazards, so few birds! It’s sad to witness these die-offs but the species still survives. Global warming cannot be helping this species on its journey to the colder, nutrient rich more northern briny destinatioin. Lets stop setting our dumps and forests on fire here in the Abacos. Eventually it will not only affect the Great Shearwaters but us as well”.

I should add that it is reassuring to be able to confirm that, at least at present, the great shearwater is IUCN-listed “Least Concern”

Status_iucn3.1_LC.svg

Great Shearwater in flight (Hardaker)

Tony has asked for all available information Bahamas-wide: “It would be very useful if someone could collect some hard data on the die-off, e.g. when was it first noted and how many birds are found along a given stretch of beach? Check for other species and take a few wings as samples of the desiccated birds. In past events the number of dead birds was much greater on Crooked and Acklin Islands than Abaco. Eleuthera too should be checked if possible”.

Lynn has also asked “Please photograph and count birds found on your beaches and send images and the number counted to me at lgape@bnt.bs. We will send on to William Mackin and Tony White who are keeping records of these occurrences The image with this post is a Greater Shearwater in flight…” (see above, as we would all like to think of these magnificent birds)

Or by all means contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com and I’ll pass on any info

STOP PRESS An update to this post written the following week, detailing new sightings and reporting the passing of a sad fortnight of shearwater fatalities in the Bahamas, can be found HERE

A happier great shearwater image to leave you with…
Great Shearwater (Dick Daniels, Wiki)
Credits and thanks to Woody Bracey, Melissa Maura, Lynn Gape, Jane Mantle, William Mackin, Patrick Coin, J J Harrison, Dick Daniels, Norvell Slezycki, Lory Kenyon, Selah Vie, Lindsey Delaphine McCoy, Turtle Cove Tilloo, Janie Thompson, Rudolf Verspoor, Laurie Schreiner, Caroline Woodson Sawyer, Steph Russell, Ashley L. Albury, Dwayne Wallas, Sully Vincent T Sullivan, Ben Albury, Abaco Bulletin, Carol Rivard Roberts, Jason McIntosh, Dale Sawyer, Barbara Trimmer, Dominique Allen, Jessica Aitken and Juana Rudzki, with apologies to anyone else who has slipped through the net…

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


Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

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

This ‘WTF?’ series started with a relatively conventional species, the REMORA. It has been getting progressively more bizarre. We moved onto an omnium gatherum of WEIRDO FISHES, then the remarkable LETTUCE SEA SLUG, and most recently the BATFISH. Time to ramp up the stakes: with many thanks to scuba expert Adam Rees for use permission for his terrific photos, I present… the FROGFISH.

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

The frogfish is a kind of anglerfish found in almost all tropical and subtropical oceans and seas. There are about 50 different species worldwide, covering an astonishing range of strange appearances. They generally live on the sea floor around coral or rock reefs. In size they vary from tiny to about 15 inches long – although ‘long’ is a flexible concept because they are to an extent shape-changers in height and width.Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

FROGFISH SUPERPOWERS YOU MAY WISH TO HAVE

  • INVISIBILITY CLOAK . Frogfish are masters of disguise and camouflage. This enables them to catch their prey with minimal effort and also to avoid predators. Their camouflage methods – broadly known as ‘aggressive mimicry’ – include
    • Ability to change colour for days or even weeks to mimic their surroundings
    • Getting covered in algae and other organic matter that matches their habitat or
    • Looking inherently like a plump rock or in some cases, plant

Fear for the life of the spider crabFrogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

  • IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTION (just like that nice Mr Grey)
    • A sort of frontal dorsal fin called an illicium to which is attached a
    • Lure called an esca which may mimic a worm, shrimp or small fish etc and which is
    • Retractable in many species and
    • Regenerates if it gets mislaid

The ‘dollop of cream’ thing is the esca. Note the characteristic large mouthFrogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

Spot the escaFrogfish (wiki)

  • BUOYANCY CONTROL & SHAPE-SHIFTING
    • Most frogfish have a ‘gas bladder’ to control their buoyancy.
    • Some species can change shape or even inflate themselves by sucking in quantities of water in a so-called defensive ‘threat display’.

frogfish-black

Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works) Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

HOW DO FROGFISH REPRODUCE? 

Although not conventionally attractive creatures, frogfish clearly manage to reproduce. Little is known about the techniques in the wild, but one is probably ‘with care’, especially for a male frogfish who may not survive for long if he hangs around after fertilisation has taken place. It has been noted that females tend to select far smaller males to fertilise their huge numbers of eggs, perhaps for that very reason.

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

FROGFISH FEEDING SKILLS – GOOD OR BAD?

When deploying the lure, potential prey that comes too close to that wide mouth stands no chance. A frogfish will strike in a fraction of a second. Frogfishes have voracious appetites for crustaceans, other fish, and even each other. I can do no better than borrow this vivid description of a feeding frogfish:

“When potential prey is first spotted, the frogfish follows it with its eyes. Then, when it approaches within roughly seven body-lengths, the frogfish begins to move its illicium in such a way that the esca mimics the motions of the animal it resembles. As the prey approaches, the frogfish slowly moves to prepare for its attack; sometimes this involves approaching the prey or “stalking” while sometimes it is simply adjusting its mouth angle. The catch itself is made by the sudden opening of the jaws, which enlarges the volume of the mouth cavity up to twelve-fold, pulling the prey into the mouth along with water. The attack can be as fast as 6 milliseconds. The water flows out through the gills, while the prey is swallowed and the oesophagus closed with a special muscle to keep the victim from escaping. In addition to expanding their mouths, frogfish can also expand their stomachs to swallow animals up to twice their size.

images

HOW DO FROGFISHES GET AROUND? SWIM? WALK? CRAWL?

Frogfishes do not in fact move around a great deal. Using their camo advantages, they prefer to lie on the sea floor and wait for prey to come to them. As mentioned in the quote above, they may slowly approach prey using their pectoral and pelvic fins to “walk” along the sea bottom. They can swim using their tail fin (or in some species by simple ‘jet propulsion’ by forcing water out of their gills) but rarely do so – they don’t feed on the move, and they are adapted to the sea floor environment where they food is readily available. However their “walking” ability is limited to short distances.

frogfish-anglerfisch

DO FROGFISH HAVE OTHER COLOUR SCHEMES?

Indeed they do. In stark contrast to the camo species, some frogfishes are highlighter bright. Here are two of my favourite photos by Adam that show this clearly. I’ve no idea if these are a male and female. I suspect they are different species. I think the brown one is a striated frogfish and the other is… a yellow frogfish. Some people keep these creatures in  aquaria, but apparently it is impossible to sex them, and they have to be kept on their own for everyone’s peace of mind…

Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works) Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

FROGFISH INFOGRAPHICS

frogfishFrogfish Infographic 'Monsters of the Deep'

FROGFISH VIDEOS

These two videos, from Lester Knutsen and Daan Van Wijk respectively, show some of the characteristics I have written about above. Both are short and both are fascinating.

To read more about frogfishes and for some fabulous photos I highly recommend the website FROGFISH.CH You can reach the main page(s) but the link seem to be broken so I have not been able to contact Teresa Zubi, whose site it is. She clearly has a sense of humour and uses a neat pair of gifs which I hope she won’t mind my using…

Credits: All main photos, Adam Rees  of Scuba Works with many thanks; wiki for ‘spot the esca’, red quote & basic info; videos Lester Knutsen & Daan Van Wijk; Teresa Zubi for website & gifs; infographics, authors u/k

Frogfish Tee Shirt

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, ABACO: THE OLD LADY’S BIG DAY


Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco

ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE, ABACO: THE OLD LADY’S BIG DAY

There are various overwrought ‘describing’ words that have become devalued and tired through overuse. Unique. Unsurpassed. Unparalleled. Iconic. However the famous and much-loved Elbow Cay Lighthouse could plausibly lay claim to any one of those adjectives. Let’s make that ‘all’. Earlier this year, following a meticulous survey, repairs and refurbishments were made to this stately 89 foot high, 101 step light that came into operation in 1863 during the height of the American Civil War. 

You can read more about the lighthouse, its importance and its machinery in various earlier posts (use the search box), and there is other material including details of the recent repair program HERE. This post is simply to advertise the forthcoming 2nd Lighthouse Festival that takes place in Tuesday June 23rd. The flyer below tells you all you need to know about the day.

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For this event, the students of Hope Town Primary School, in conjunction with the invaluable ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE SOCIETY , have produced a wonderful book celebrating the lighthouse, with proceeds of sale benefitting the school’s volunteer programs and the Society’s ongoing projects. I am sure will be a best seller – make it happen!

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As last year, the events will include an auction. Among the wide variety of items to be auctioned will be a 15″ x 15″ print on canvas of my photo of a Western Spindalis, taken on the drive of the Delphi Club and included in “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a copy of which was auctioned last year). 

Western Spindalis, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Maybe a few more pics of such an interesting building are called for…. And a reminder of some key words to scatter liberally into your conversation at the event. Or anywhere, really: “Fresnel Lenses”, “Mercury Bed”, “Clockwork Mechanism”, “Trinity House, London”.Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay Abaco

Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Lamp, Fresnel Lens) hoplit22 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit20 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit19 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit18 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit17 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Fresnel Lens) hoplit6 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit4 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit2 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit3

And finally a wonderful photo of Hope Town centred on the Lighthouse complex. Enjoy June 23rd.Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Credits: Lighthouse exteriors and Spindalis RH; all interiors Mrs RH; props to Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society (and ?David Rees for the aerial view…); Annie Potts for her inspiring book “Last Lights” about the intriguing lighthouses of the Bahamas

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.

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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…