THE CONCH QUEST OF ABACO…


Conch ©Melinda Riger @G B Scuba

THE CONCH QUEST OF ABACO…

Conchs are gastropods. They are food. They are decoration (anyway, the shells are). For some, they are a living. And on Abaco they are everywhere – alive in the waters, and as shells scattered on  beaches or piled up outside restaurants. So the quest for conch is an easy one. There are fears of overfishing, however, and an active organisation The Bahamas National Conchservation Campaign exists to protect them. Another similar Bahamas organisation is Community Conch.conchs-at-sandy-point-1 We found a nice half-buried conch shell at Sandy Point. It was full of sand grains and tiny shells – mini gastropods and bivalves - that took some time to wash out of the spiralling internal structure. Here are some studies of the shell. IMG_2438IMG_2442IMG_2444IMG_2445IMG_2448IMG_5279IMG_5278 The damage to the shell above is the place where it has been bashed in to enable removal of the occupant. In order to do so, it is necessary to break the strong vacuum that would prevent extraction if you tried by the conventional route. Effectively the conch anchors itself to its shell and must be cut out. The best way to make the hole is with the spiral tip of another conch. This breaks the suction and enables you to prise out the occupant…

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Finally, you can usually rely on me to go off-piste. So here is a video of how to make a conch horn to annoy your friends and neighbours with…

ABACO: AN IMPORTANT BIRDING AREA IN THE BAHAMAS


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 11

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot

ABACO: AN IMPORTANT BIRDING AREA IN THE BAHAMAS

The Bahamas National Trust BNT is one of several organisations in the Bahamas responsible for conservation across the widely scattered islands of the Bahamas. One of its tasks is to look after the birds and their habitat, and from time to time the Trust publishes articles about their work. The Abaco-related material below is taken from a much longer article by Predensa Moore and Lynn Gape that covers the whole area, and concerns the importance of Abaco as a prime Bird Area. This applies in particular to Little Abaco and the Northern Cays; and to the large area of South Abaco that incorporates the National Park. The bird images used show some Abaco speciality birds mentioned by the BNT in their material. 

BNT BIRD ARTICLE 2 JPG copy

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD Mimus gundlachiiBahama Mockingbird, Abaco 3BNT BIRD ARTICLE 3 JPGBAHAMA WOODSTAR Calliphlox evelynae              Bahama Woodstar BPS BNT BIRD ARTICLE 4 JPGBAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypsis rostrataBahama Yellowthroat Abaco 8 BNT BIRD ARTICLE 5 JPG

CUBAN EMERALD Chlorostilbon ricordiiCuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco 1Credits: BNT; Bahama Woodstar, Ann Capling with thanks; the rest, RH

ABACO PARROTS TO CELEBRATE A MODEST LANDMARK


Abaco Parrot

Abaco Parrot

ABACO PARROTS TO CELEBRATE A MODEST LANDMARK

‘Rolling Harbour: The Blog’ had humble beginnings – a dodgy structure built on foundations formed of an unpromising mix of ignorance and incompetence. Gradually it has come together, to the extent that it has just passed the 125,000 visits mark. Abaco is a small and uncrowded island, so the audience demographic [to use biz-speak] isn’t large. However the wildlife, scenery and lifestyle have turned out to have a wider appeal. 1/8 of a million people (or perhaps 1 crazy punter with repetitive strain injury from checking in unhealthily often) deserve a few of Abaco’s unique parrots in return.

I THANK YOU ALLAbaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 4a

WHERE IT ALL BEGINS – AN UNDERGROUND NEST DEEP IN THE NATIONAL FORESTAbaco Parrot Nest 2

EVENTUALLY THE CHICKS HATCH…Abaco Parrot Nest 4

…AND GROWAbaco Parrot Nest 5

IN DUE COURSE THEY ARE READY TO BE CHECKED OVER AND RINGEDAbaco Parrot Chick Ringing 1

THEY HAVE NO FEAR OF THE ‘PARROT LADY’, SCIENTIST CAROLINECS with Abaco parrot chick

SOON THEY ARE INDEPENDENT AND DISCOVERING THE JOYS OF GUMBO LIMBO BERRIESABACO PARROT ©CS 2012 3

KEEPING A BEADY EYE OUT…ABACO PARROT ©CS 2012 7

DOMESTIC HARMONY…ABACO PARROTS MM 3ABACO PARROTS MM 8

…BUT NOT ALL THE TIMEAbaco Parrots MM 10

‘HOW DO I LOOK AGAINST A BRIGHT BLUE SKY?’Abaco (Cuban) Parrot 2013 13

PARROTS HAVING AN EARLY EVENING GET-TOGETHER AT BAHAMA PALM SHORES


‘GOODNESS ME, IS THAT THE TIME? I MUST FLY…’

parrot crossingCredits: Caroline Stahala, Melissa Maura, RH; recording and video RH

GEORGIE THE (FORMER) ABACO MANATEE RETURNS TO THE BERRY IS.


Georgie the Manatee, Hope Town, Abaco (© Stafford Patterson) 1

GEORGIE THE (FORMER) ABACO MANATEE RETURNS TO THE BERRY IS.

Last year I posted about Georgie, the young manatee that made Abaco her home for several months. Georgie was born in Spanish Wells. She and her mother Rita travelled to Nassau Harbour, where in April 2012 they were rescued from the multiple shipping hazards and  released in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. Both were equipped with tags to monitor their movements. In June, the newly-weaned Georgie embarked on a big solo adventure by swimming to Abaco. Her tracking device showed that she called in at the Marls, before continuing right round the top of Abaco and down the east side, calling in at various Cays on the way. In all, her journey was some 200 miles long. She eventually settled down in the Cherokee and Casuarina area, and in a modest way became a lettuce-chomping celebrity.  DANA & TRISH FEEDING GEORGIE (2)

Georgie-related posts include these:

WEST INDIAN MANATEES AND THE BAHAMAS: THE FACTS

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE – CHEROKEE’S SIRENIAN VISITOR STAYS ON…

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: FAREWELL CHEROKEE, HELLO ATLANTIS

The BMMRO has recently updated Georgie’s story: “Georgie remained in Cherokee Sound throughout the fall, including during hurricane Sandy but in January she was beginning to look slightly underweight. Concern was raised about her general appearance and the decision was made… to conduct a field health assessment and relocate her to the Atlantis Marine Mammal Rescue Center. “recap1

“Georgie underwent a series of general health evaluations and was fed approximately 75 pounds of lettuce each day. She gained more than 200 pounds during the course of her care and weighed 569 pounds upon her recent release”. recap4

“We are pleased to announce that Georgie has now been released once more to Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands after a successful rehabilitation at Atlantis’ Dolphin Cay. She was successfully released on Wednesday 14th August by the Atlantis Animal Rescue Team from the Atlantis Dolphin Cay Marine Mammal Rescue Center, with the help of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). She has a satellite tag attached to her which will help post-release monitoring, currently being conducted by representatives from BMMRO and Dolphin Cay.”

Georgie being let down from the boat, back into Great Harbour Cay (K. Ferguson)
Georgie with her tag shortly after release (K. Ferguson)

Georgie socialising with a young male manatee in Great Harbour Cay a few days later (K. Ferguson)

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“The first 3 weeks of Georgie’s release  showed her venturing on longer and longer journeys, with the blue circles showing her first weeks’ movements, the red her second, and finally the yellow circles her locations up to Saturday. She is doing very well and often seen with the other manatees in the area.”

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GEORGIE: THE MOVIE OF THE MOVIE

Apologies for using an iPh*ne to capture the movie – I wasn’t able to embed it directly. Updates on Georgie will be posted on BMMRO’s FACEBOOK PAGE

Credits and thanks to BMMRO and Kendria Ferguson for use of photos and the maroon text…

‘JUMPING FOR JOY’: CHEERFUL DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS


Dolphin, one of a pod of 50

‘JUMPING FOR JOY’: CHEERFUL DOLPHINS IN ABACO WATERS 

To be totally accurate, one or two of these photographs may have be take from the BMMRO research vessel at some point during an expedition to Andros. But since the boat set off from and returned to Abaco, with an Abaconian team on board, I have stretched a point  with the title… 

It would be hard to view a dolphin leap as high as this (top photo) as anything other than an expression of pure enjoyment. Difficult to tell the exact height, but it’s fairly spectacular. Dolphins always seem to be looking, or acting, happy. Here are a few more, a mix of bottlenose and spotted dolphins,  to spread some cheer… 

Dolphin Leap Abaco ©BMMROSpotted Dolphin, Abaco ©BMMROSpotted Dolphin Abaco ©BMMROHappy Dolphin Abaco ©BMMRO

This dolphin was one of a large pod of 28 seen on a recent BMMRO research tripOne of a large pod of 28 dolphins

Time to get my… erm… paintbox outLeaping DolphinPhoto credits: Bahamas  Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO

In an earlier post I name-checked BMMRO intern Oscar Ward’s blog SeventyPercentBlue.  You can read Oscar’s account of his continuing adventures HERE

BANANAQUIT BABIES ON ABACO: AWWWWWW…SOME BIRDS


Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 4

BANANAQUIT BABIES ON ABACO: AWWWWWW…SOME BIRDS

I’m not generally into whimsy and such stuff BUT… I can’t get enough of small bananaquits (Coereba flaveola). I’ve featured them before HERE and HERE AGAIN, but then I see another one, take some photos, and awwwwww – look at its little fluffy feathers… and its tiny sharp claws! The two shown below are summer babies. They aren’t really babies, though, are they? Teenagers, more like. Like many Abaco birds – especially the parrots – they are keen on the fruit of the Gumbo Limbo tree Bursera simaruba shown here. They also love flowers, piecing the base with their beaks to get at the nectar. They are quite as happy on a feeder – or indeed sipping sugar water from a hummingbird feeder, living up to their nickname ‘sugar bird’. 

Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 1Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 7“Watching you watching me…”Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 3

This second bird is a bit older, and has developed some smart citrus lemon shoulder flashes. Bananaquits have many regional variations throughout the caribbean and beyond. These birds are, or were, generally lumped in with the tanager species. They have an official classification of ‘uncertain placement’ in the taxonomic scheme for now, while their exact status is debated. Not that anyone watching them worries about that sort of technicality.Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 6Bananaquit (juv) Abaco, Bahamas 5

Here is what a Bahamas bananaquit sounds like, recorded on Andros (Credit: Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto)


A pair of adult bananaquits

ELEGANT COOT CABARETS (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO


“ELEGANT COOT CABARETS” (6,6,2,5 anag.): CATTLE EGRETS ON ABACO

The CATTLE EGRET Bubulcus ibis is a species of heron with an affinity with cattle and other grazing animals. It’s a two-way thing – they relieve a cow of its ticks and flies, and get a ready meal return. Their name is the latin for ‘herdsman’.

Originating in Africa, these birds have proved to be one of the most successful and resilient bird species at expanding their breeding populations around the globe.

Range map - yellow: breeding – green: year-round –  blue: non-breeding                     

The first sightings in North America were in 1941, then assumed to be escapees. Far from it. They flew in and multiplied. By 1953 they were breeding in Florida; in Canada in 1962; and in the Bahamas in the 1960s. Now they are everywhere – though (depending, like, how old you are) your grandparents might never have seen one… Here’s a helpful wiki-graphic 

Range expansion in the Americas

In the breeding season, cattle egrets develop pinkish-buff patches on their front, back and crown, and grow matching head-plumes

Recently we saw one at Sandy Point when photographing kestrels. It’s no longer in full breeding plumage, but traces of a pinkish tinge can still be seen.Cattle Egret Abaco 8The cattle egret’s eyes are positioned so that while they are feeding they have binocular vision. I’m not quite sure why that would be advantageous; you might think they’d prefer one eye on their food, and one on the look out for predatorsCattle Egret Sandy Point Abaco 12

When on the move the egrets may adopt a stooping, creeping stanceCattle Egret Abaco 7

These birds have capacious mouths, which enable them to vary their diet from small maggoty things to larger insects, then through snails to small frogs and the likeCattle Egret Abaco 5

Although the neck generally looks slim, they appear to have an expandable gullet which no doubt helps with larger food itemsCattle Egret Abaco 4

Now. Time to get back to the Crossword…Cattle Egret Abaco 2

BINOCULAR VISIONce_sp1Graphics, breeding plumage & header: redoubtable wiki; other images RH

ADDENDUM The redoubtable dou dou, creator of tiny and cute handmade bird models, has been inspired by these fine creatures to make a handsome pair. Check out her site with the link above… and you can even buy your very own cattle egrets there

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POSTING POSTERS: 5 OUTSTANDING ECO-EDUCO-INFO POSTERS


LRE Logo

LOXAHATCHEE RIVER DISTRICT POSTERS

EXCELLENT ECO POSTERS FROM LRD: FOR WEBSITE CLICK HERE

TO ENLARGE (CONSIDERABLY), DOUBLE-CLICKLoxahatchee River District Coral Reef Poster

Loxahatchee River District Bonefish Poster

Loxahatchee River District Lionfish Poster tarponposter.inddseagrasses_poster_8.5x11

CREDIT thanks to Loxahatchee River District for use permission for this website. Please note that these posters are ©Loxahatchee River District, and may not be used without permission. Especially not for commercial purposes. Please resist any temptation to drag them out and use them without contacting LRD first (website link at top of page). RH

BTT LOGOClick me for Bonefish & Tarpon Trust

Nature Conservancy Logo

Click me for Nature Conservancy, Bahamas

CONSERVATION PIECE: AN ABACO ECO-MISCELLANY


CONSERVATION PIECE: AN ABACO ECO-MISCELLANY

From time to time I post individual items on the CONSERVATION page. This comprises an assortment of articles, photos, videos and graphics with an eco-message relevant to Abaco and its waters. They accumulate gradually, and occasionally it is good to post a selection for consideration. What is the most frequently found item of detritus on a beach? Is it ok to eat striped bass? How many uses does a coconut have? How quickly does the invasive lionfish population spread? What is Fish Pharm? How many years does it take for an aluminium can to decompose? These and many other questions are answered below.

184790_196532023698608_1805444_aClick logo for website!

NOAA MARINE DEBRIS PROGRAM

Keepin’ the Sea Free of Debris!

ICC volunteers clean 10 million lbs of trash from our coasts
May 16, 2013 by NOAA Marine Debris Program

By: Dianna Parker

One rubber chicken, 117 mattresses, 4,159 candles, and 689,274 utensils. What do all of these things have in common?

They’re all marine debris collected last September at the Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup®, sponsored in part by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.The numbers are in: more than 550,000 volunteers came together to collect 10 million pounds of marine debris.  In the United States, volunteers found enough bottles that, when stacked end to end, equal the height of 1,000 Empire State Buildings. That’s a lot of trash on our beaches and in our waterways!This litter is threatening our marine environment, economy, and health, and the problem will only get worse unless we change the way we consume and dispose of products. There are solutions, and we can prevent litter from ending up in the ocean.So here’s a challenge: the next time you use a throw-away item: a bag, bottle, or utensil, answer the question, “Where it’s going?” How will you keep your items from becoming litter in our oceans, rivers, and streams? Head to Ocean Conservancy’s data release page for some neat infographics on last year’s trash haul. Here are the top 10 types volunteers found this year

top-10-items-found

THE PELAGIC OCEAN: AN INVESTIGATION INTO POLLUTION – BY KIDS

Prepare to be astounded – and horrified – by the cruel damage inflicted on sea life by humans and their prolific plastic trash. Credit: Friends of the Environment, Abaco

PROPOSED MARINE PROTECTED AREAS / EAST ABACO CREEKS VIDEOAbaco-park

coconut-uses 2Bahamas Lighthouse Pres Soc Logo

BAHAMAS LIGHTHOUSE PRESERVATION SOCIETY

BLPS NEWSLETTER JAN 2013 FINAL

LIONFISH

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The debate about the seemingly unstoppable spread of the invasive lionfish species is well known. There are some who argue strongly that lionfish have their uses, and not merely as a food source. To see ongoing lionfish research by the organisation REEF click HERE To supplement the static projection graphic for lionfish spread (below), here is an active graphic that vividly shows how the species (love them or hate them) has expanded exponentially in numbers and range over a very short period

lionfishanimation 2013

 REEF lionfish progam graphics Conch Conservation Notice EGO -ECO graphic fishNational Geographic

Abaco Crawfish Logo

LOBSTERS – WE GOTTEM! OVERFISH THEM – WE AIN’T!

Video courtesy the fabulous CONCH SALAD TV; heads-up from ABACO SCIENTIST; campaign by SIZE MATTERS

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BAHAMAS LIGHTHOUSE PRESERVATION SOCIETY Read the Society’s 4-page January 2013 Newsletter HERE BLPS NEWSLETTER JAN 2013 

The Society was founded in 1995, and it has already achieved much to preserve and protect the lighthouses of the Bahamas. Of particular interest to Abaconians will be the news about the Hope Town lighthouse, and about the work done at Hole-in-the-Wall. If you’d like to support this hard-working not-for-profit organisation and help to preserve a part of Abaco’s maritime history, the email address is blps.bah@gmail.com  Hope Town Lighthouse

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A new environmental organisation has been announced: to find out more

CLICK===>>> BPFA 

IUCN CUBAN PARROT RED LIST RANGE MAP FOR AT RISK SPECIES
I have annotated this IUCN map of the Cuban Parrot population range. It’s worth noting that the Bahamian subspecies is now found only as a breeding population on Abaco and Inagua, being defunct on all other islands since the mid-c20. Of these populations, only the Abaco parrot breeds underground, a unique feature among the whole species.
I am puzzled by the suggestion of an ‘extant (resident)’ population on the Bimini Is. That would suggest that they breed there. I don’t know the date of the map, but I have checked with the Avibase bird database, and the Cuban parrot is indeed included in the list of Bimini birds. I’ve put a query on the map because I don’t know what the position is in 2012.
Click me!
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT (ABACO)
This conservation organisation has recently completely redesigned its website (click logo above), and presents comprehensive and easily navigated information about a myriad aspects of conservation on Abaco and its fragile ecology. The fragility is mostly directly or indirectly caused by mankind (a broad statement, I know, but it’s an arguable stance), so it’s worth checking out the measures that are being undertaken to preserve the natural resources of the island and its cays. Below is a post about one feature highlighted on the FotE site that I am particularly interested in. Overall all the new website is definitely one for any Abaconian (or, like me, regular visitor) to study. If you want to contribute your support (either generally or to a specific cause) go to the FotE website (click logo) or visit the Rolling Harbour wildlife charity page HERE

THE EFFECT OF RISING SEA LEVELS IN THE CARIBBEAN

This map has been posted by the SCSCB, with the very interesting and definitely worrying text “The map shows projected impacts of a 2 meter sea level rise in the Caribbean. The orange is the impact of 2 meters, while the yellow is the 25 meter line. The last time the ice caps melted the sea rose between 18 and 25 meters. The most conservative estimates indicate a 1-meter rise by the end of the century (concurrent with a 2 degree C rise in temperature). From the position of planning, I am curious about the estimates being used by Caribbean resource managers in their long-range planning. For example, what percentage of Caribbean seabirds nest below 2 meters…”

EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK PROPOSAL

Click on the title above to see the BNT’s proposal for this major conservation proposal for the east Abaco creeks. It’s in .pdf form and you can (probably) copy / save it if you wish. The map below shows the 3 areas concerned. You can check out more details – and photos – on Facebook at EACNP

A VISUAL TO PONDER FROM ‘SCIENCE IS AWESOME’

CONSERVATION ON ABACO AND IN THE BAHAMAS

This new page (June 2012) is intended to showcase the achievements of the various organisations and individuals involved with the protection and conservation of the fragile ecology and wildlife in a small and rapidly developing area. A number of posts and articles from other pages will gradually migrate to this page.

I have posted on Facebook a statement by the new Environment Minister which praises the environmental work carried out in the Bahamas and pledges Government support MINISTER’S STATEMENT Let’s hope it’s forthcoming…

community conch logo

CONCH CONSERVATION

The supply of conchs is not infinite. Overfish them, take them before maturity  or pollute their habitat and this valuable marine resource depletes – and conchs, as with so many marine species, will become threatened. Fortunately there is a Bahamas-wide conservation organisation with a website packed with interest.  COMMUNITY CONCH is “a nonprofit organization that aims to protect queen conchs in the Bahamas, a species of mollusk threatened by aggressive over-fishing. We promote sustainable harvest of queen conch through research, education and community-based conservation”

“Helping to sustain a way of life in the Bahamas”

Much of the research has been carried out in Berry Is, Andros and Exuma Cays. However the team has recently been based at Sandy point, Abaco CLICK===>>> ABACO EXPEDITION  The full Conch Conservation post can be found at CONCH QUEST

BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION (BMMRO)

The BMMRO is featured many times in this blog, in particular in the pages WHALES & DOLPHINS and MANATEES. They now have a Facebook page with all the latest news, photos, newsletters links and cetacean / sirenian goss in one easily-digested timelined place. To reach it CLICK ===>>> BMMRO FACEBOOK PAGE

For the latest quarterly newsletter, just published, CLICK ===>>> BMMRO NEWSLETTER JULY 2012

A RECENT FLYER FOR THE ‘SIZE MATTERS’ CRAWFISH CAMPAIGN

BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST PRESS RELEASE JUNE 2012

ABACO PARROT POPULATION ON THE RISE

The Bahamas National Trust  in conjunction with Dr. Frank Riviera and Caroline Stahala recently conducted an intensive survey of the Bahama Parrot on Abaco Population surveys conducted in 2002 resulted in estimates of the Abaco parrot population of about 2,500 parrots with similar values in the following years. This year Dr. Frank Rivera and Caroline Stahala, who took part in the initial surveys, helped by  BNT wardens and volunteers, conducted a 10 year follow up survey to determine the change in the Abaco parrot population since management began. The results indicate that the Abaco parrot population has increased since the BNT’s management efforts were implemented with a new estimate of just over 4,000 parrots on Abaco. The BNT has been concerned about the Bahama Parrot Population since the 1980’s. Studies indicated that the major threat to the parrots were feral cats who cause serious problems to the parrots during the nesting season by entering the underground nesting cavities and killing the breeding adults and chicks. The BNT implemented an intensive predator control effort in 2009 throughout the parrot nesting area culminating in the hiring of Marcus Davis as Deputy Park whose primary responsibility is to oversee the predator control program. During the breeding seasons the BNT has seen a decrease in the number of breeding parrots killed and nest success increase. The question, though, remained whether this effort would translate into an increase in the Abaco parrot population size. Survey results indicated that predator control has led to an increase in nest success.  In addition, the Abaco parrots have weathered several hurricanes (Frances, Jean and Irene) over the last 10 years and still appear to show  a population increase. Hopefully with continued management efforts a healthy and viable  endemic parrot population on Abaco will continue to thrive. According to David Knowles, BNT Director of Parks “This gives us hope that with continued management efforts we can continue to have a healthy and viable endemic parrot population on Abaco.”

HELLO, HANDSOME! WESTERN SPINDALIS IN THE MOOD FOR LURVE…


Western Spindalis Abaco 4

HELLO, HANDSOME! WESTERN SPINDALIS IN THE MOOD FOR LURVE…

Nearly two years ago, when this blog was still in its mewling infancy, I posted about one of my favourite small birds on Abaco, the WESTERN SPINDALIS (Spindalis zena, formerly known as the Stripe-headed Tanager). It is a strikingly handsome creature by any standards, often seen posing ‘tall’ on a branch looking splendid in its orange, black and white livery.

Perching proudly…Western Spindalis Abaco 1… or dining elegantly…Western Spindalis Abaco 2

The  spindalis is one of the birds to look out for if you are walking along one of the drives at Delphi, or (*recommended 1/2 hour stroll*) walking the drive circuit. You’ll see them in the coppice or in the undergrowth alongside the drives in the pine forest area, almost certainly a little way in from the front. We spotted one quite close to the Highway, looking most decorative in the greenery. This one had an uncharacteristic hunched look about him, and we soon discovered why – he was courting. Not the black-faced grassquit near the bottom of the photo, but a female spindalis well-hidden low down and further back in the undergrowth to the left. So we edged nearer to get a better look.Western Spindalis Abaco 7

You’ll see that this male bird’s hunched posture has produced a rather impressive neck ruff, an adornment presumably irresistible to female spindalises. Both birds were ‘chucking’ softly to each other, and the male turned his head regularly to show off his glories from all angles. Western Spindalis Abaco 6Western Spindalis Abaco 8I can’t unfortunately reveal the outcome of this encounter. We never saw the female, and we had probably got too close for her to feel comfortable about breaking cover. The male, however, was too absorbed refining his pulling techniques to be greatly bothered by our presence, though he did keep a beady black eye on us. Is this male preoccupation when courting found in other animal species, I wonder? Reader, we made our excuses and left…

‘MEN AT WORK’: CLEANING UP MAN’S DEBRIS IN THE OCEAN


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‘MEN AT WORK’: CLEANING UP MAN’S DEBRIS IN THE OCEAN

I keep an eye on the website SCUBAZOO. As ever, the alert ABACO SCIENTIST (highly recommended to follow) has beaten me to this latest post from Jason Isley, diver / photographer and creative thinker. He demonstrates the wonders and (human) blunders of the deep with wit and style. In the gallery below, he tackles the issue of man’s pollution of pristine waters. In a simple way, he manages to use humour to get across a message  that can easily become obscured by lengthy sermonising. See what you think.            

Pollution01Pollution02Pollution04Pollution03pollution06pollution05

ART FOR THE [NATIONAL] PARKS: 3 DAY EVENT IN AID OF ABACO’S WILDLIFE


Atala Hairstreak LogoSUPPORT ABACO WILDLIFE CONSERVATION AND THE WORK OF THE BNT

LOCAL ARTISTS & ARTISANS; LECTURES; ENVIRONMENTAL GAMES; FRESH MARKET

(Help to make sure that the creatures pictured below stay off the IUCN ‘threatened species’ list) 

Art for the Parks: Abaco National Parks

ABACO PARROTS & CHICKS – A 2012 BREEDING SEASON PICTURE GALLERY


ABACO PARROTS & CHICKS

A 2012 BREEDING SEASON PICTURE GALLERY

Time to write some more about Abaco’s most famous bird, the unique ground-nesting Amazon / Cuban parrot sub-species that makes Abaco its home, and breeds in the pine forests of the Abaco National Park in the south of the island. You’ll find lots of information and photos on the dedicated page ABACO PARROTS.

This post covers the 2012 breeding season, and highlights the success of scientist Caroline Stahala and her team in helping to secure the future of these rare endangered birds. The population had shrunk to around 2500 (or fewer) some years ago. More recently it had risen to 3000. An intensive conservation program, including anti-predation measures, has proved effective; and a systematic ringing program has enabled the team to keep a close eye on recovering parrot numbers. Caroline says that the population is now in the region of 4000, confirming an encouraging reversal of a dismal decline towards extinction for these beautiful birds.

ABACO PARROTS IN THE PINE FOREST

The parrots breed only in the pine forest, where they nest in quite deep holes in the limestone rock. This makes the nests and the areas round them vulnerable to predation from feral cats and rodents etc; but conversely it offers protection from the forest fires that would destroy tree nests. 

The holes are often well concealed in the undergrowth and take some searching for…

Both parents are involved in the nesting and later chick care. The female lays 2 – 4 eggs.

The chicks hatch after an incubation period of around 26 days

Some of the nest holes are remarkably deep: the parent parrots clamber up and down the sides

The chicks grow the beginnings of feathers, remaining quite unattractive except to their parents

The parent parrots share feeding and care duties

The chicks / fledglings stage are ringed so they can be identified – see ABACO PARROT CHICKS

By coincidence, as I was producing the post above, Craig Layman at THE ABACO SCIENTIST was also ruminating on the topic of Abaco parrot breeding. He posted the comments below, which raise the very interesting question whether the Abaco parrots, with their increased population, may be starting to breed outside the National park. Caroline can probably answer this (see COMMENTS), but does anyone have any direct evidence to suggest a wider breeding habitat? I guess there would need to be a suitably pitted rock structure for the nests, and an absence of the usual cat- and rat-type predators that one might find nearer human populations. Answers welcomed via the comment box…

(Sort of) A Bahama Parrot Study

Posted by laymanc 26 Nov 2012

It isn’t really much of a study, but the only “science” I have been able to do over the last week with the continued turbidity of  nearshore waters.

The Bahama parrot (more information HERE and HERE) is one of the iconic Bahamas animals, and the main factor behind the establishment of the ABACO NATIONAL PARK in southern Abaco.  But my study has been conducted instead from my desk in Little Harbour.  My main finding is simple: the range of the parrot has clearly expanded; it has now been a full calendar in which parrots have been in the area.  Just a few days ago two dozen were squawking around the harbour.  The key will be whether they begin nesting here as well – I havent heard reports of that yet.  But if they do, the expanding nesting range will substantially increase long term viability of the parrot on Abaco.  That ends my first ever Bahama parrot study (I really need more time in the water when I come back).

GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: IS SHE RELATED TO AN ELEPHANT?


GEORGIE THE ABACO MANATEE: IS SHE RELATED TO AN ELEPHANT?

Georgie, having returned to Cherokee after Hurricane Sandy, is still around there and seems to have made it her home. While she was missing, it was thought she had headed off instinctively for the protection of the mangroves. However a number of sighting reports made since Sandy suggest that she had sensibly swum up the canal at Casuarina, where she was able to keep her head down until the storm had safely cleared northwards, and she was able to return to base. Because she had shed her tag, we’ll never know the full story… 

Georgie safely back at Cherokee after Hurricane Sandy

Recently an interesting article by BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST considered the relationship between sirenians and pachyderms, and added some handy comparative facts (you can seen more manatee facts on this blog HERE). Thanks, BCS, for use permission (the relevant credits are contained in the article).

Are manatees and elephants related?

by Beach Chair Scientist

It might be very difficult to imagine, but manatees (also known as ‘sea cows’) share a common ancestor with elephants which might come as a surprise if you thought manatees shared a common ancestor with other marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, or sea lions. Here are 10 facts that link manatees and elephants are long-lost relatives.

1. Scientifically, manatees and elephants are classified as subungulates. Other mammals in the Subungulata superorder are hyraxes and aardvarks.
2.Manatees and elephants have an uncommon-shaped heart that is spherical. To compare, most mammals have a single-pointed tip at the base (i.e., “heart”—shaped).
3. The West Indian and West African manatee have three or four fingernail-like structures on the tip of their flippers, just like that of the toenails on the feet of elephants.
4. Manatees and elephants both have a thick, gray skin with very sparse hair.
5. Manatees and elephants have molars which move toward the front of the mouth, eventually break off, and are restored by those at the rear. Elephants have a limited number while manatees are never-ending.
6. Manatees have two incisors that bear a resemblance to elephant tusks.
7. Manatees use their large, flexible muscular lips to break apart vegetation in the water and skillfully steer food to their mouths. This is very similar to the action of the elephant eating with his trunk.
8. Manatees and elephants are herbivores. Manatees tend to feast on sea grass and freshwater plants and consume up to 100-150 pounds a day. Elephants tend to feast on small plants, bushes, fruit, twigs, tree bark, and roots and consume up to 330-375 pounds a day.
9. Male manatees and elephants are known as bulls. Female manatee and elephants are known as cows. Young manatee and elephants are known as calves.
10. Manatees and elephants are both endangered. Their numbers have dropped due in a large part to human activities.

Manatee image (c) cruisenaplesflorida.com, elephant image (c) gallery.hd.org

Here is a fantastic TEACHING RESOURCE from the University of Florida and Se Grant extension I uncovered while pulling this post together.

Credit: SavetheManatee.org

To whom thanks also for this: WHAT DO MANATEES SOUND LIKE? 


 

“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE”: THREATENED PIPING PLOVERS, ABACO BAHAMAS


“GIVE PEEPS A CHANCE”: THREATENED PIPING PLOVERS

Not the feeblest punning title on this blog, but going hard for the avian-related booby prize. As it were. Many months ago I did a short post about these tiny plovers, and had begun to update it. Then I found that both the BNT and the ABACO SCIENTIST are onto them too. Thanks to them, I have some excellent added material further down the page… But first, here’s a quick cut out ‘n’ keep summary

SIZE               Charadrius melodus is a Very Small Shorebird

HABITAT     Rocky shores / sandy beaches; nesting in higher, drier areas of the shoreline where there is cover 

Photo courtesy of Caribbean Birds SCSCB

RANGE          From Canada (summer) down to the Gulf of Mexico (winter). They head south in August and return in March 

Credit: Xeno-Canto / Google

CALL              A thin whistled peep peeping, whether standing or flying, and a two-note alarm call [There are surprisingly few Piping Plover call samples online. Many sites - Audubon, eNature, Birdwatchers Digest - all seem to have the same one. So I'll credit them all and the originator Lang Elliot and hope I've covered my back...]


BREEDING   The male digs out several scrapes on the high shoreline. The female contemplates these efforts, and (if any meet her ideal domestic criteria) chooses her preferred one, which she then decorates (grass, weed, shells etc). Meanwhile, Mr Peep tries to impress her by chucking pebbles around, dive-bombing her, and strutting around her importantly and “fluffed up” [none of these tactics work in human courtship, in my experience]. If Mrs Peep (a) likes the home she has chosen and furnished and (b) has recovered from her fit of the giggles at all that performance, she permits mating to proceed

NESTING     First nests normally have 4 eggs; later ones fewer. Both share incubation and subsequent parental ‘brooding’ duties

DEFENCE    Plovers have a defensive “broken wing display” used to distract predators and draw attention away from the nest

THREATS    Larger birds, cats, raccoons etc. Human disturbance. Plovers and chicks are vulnerable to storms & abnormal high tides 

ZOOM…!     Capable of running at astonishing speed over short distances. When they stop, they often snap the head back and forward.

STATUS       Depending on area, treated either as Threatened or Endangered; IUCN listing NT

CONSERVATION Historically PP feathers were used as decoration in wealthy women’s hats – no longer a problem. Shoreline development and alterations to natural coastline are now the leading cause of population decline. This has been reversed through field and legislative protection programs, especially at nesting sites; public education; anti-predation measures; and restricting human access in vulnerable areas – including off-roading…

STOP PRESS Nov 18 Sean has just posted a professional / scientific article about piping plovers, with some very useful information specific to Abaco and some helpful links, over at the ABACO SCIENTIST. Clicking through is highly recommended if you want to know more about these little birds

This is the characteristic ‘pigeon-toed’ stance – they run that way too…

RICARDO JOHNSON’S 6 MINUTE VIDEO ‘PIPING PLOVERS’ 

Ricky is a well-known, infectiously enthusiastic, and compendiously knowledgeable Abaco nature guide  (this guy gets way too much free publicity in this blog…). As I wrote when I originally posted  it “In this video he focusses his binoculars on piping plovers, a threatened species of tiny plover which annually makes a long migration to the Bahamas, including Abaco – and then heads all the way north again.”

If this video doesn’t make you smile at some stage, I suspect a SOH bypass and / or your ‘anti-cute’ setting is jammed on. Even so you’ll see the differences between the piping plover and the more familiar Wilson’s plover.

The BNT / ABSCI material originates from the Audubon Society. If you want to know about the annual journeys of these little birds and where they are in each season, it’s all here. The item was made in conjunction with the ESRI mapping project. I’ve put a screenshot below to give a general idea of what’s involved [click to enlarge] and you can reach the interactive Audubon page if you CLICK PIPING PLOVER

Credits:Wiki (images), Audubon Soc, Xeno-Canto, Lang Elliot & partners, Ricky Johnson

“MANATEE MANIA IN THE ABACOS” BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER


“MANATEE MANIA IN THE ABACOS” – BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER

The BMMRO has just published the Fall 2012 newsletter, and it’s no surprise to find that the front page news is the arrival of young manatee Georgie on Abaco. After nosing and indeed grazing her way around Abaco and the Cays, she still appears to be contentedly moored in Cherokee after the best part of a month. Here’s the official map of her wanderings 

Besides the manatee there’s plenty more to read and look at including 

  • Charlotte Dunn’s ‘President’s Update’
  • Articles on whales, and a friendly bottlenose dolphin’s visit to Hope Town
  • Fall ‘cetacean sightings’ map
  • Students at ‘Whale Camp’
  • A quiz to make sure you have taken it all in…

To read the four-page document –  and admire the photos - CLICK BMMRO FALL 2012 NEWSLETTER

‘PARROTS OF THE BAHAMAS’: ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS BY ANTONIUS ROBERTS


‘PARROTS OF THE BAHAMAS’

A SERIES OF ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS BY ANTONIUS ROBERTS

The wonderful parrots of Abaco are often featured hereabouts, and with good reason. They are the only subspecies of cuban parrot to nest underground, a unique species adaptation that protects them from fires in the pine forest of the ABACO NATIONAL PARK where they breed. However this in turn makes them vulnerable to predation. An intensive long-term conservation and predation-reduction program headed by scientist Caroline Stahala has reversed the decline of this iconic bird. Numbers have increased from fewer than 2500 some years ago to an estimated 4000. 

There are places on Abaco – south Abaco in particular – where the parrots congregate in noisy groups during the day. Many people manage to take photographs of them. Good photographers with a decent lens can get outstanding results. Even the camera-incompetent (I hear my name!) can manage the occasional first-class photo, given time and plenty of spare space on the camera card… But very few can do justice to these colourful birds in paint.

The spectacular series of paintings below are by well-known Bahamian artist and sculptor Antonius Roberts. Caroline has already posted about these on the ABACO PARROT RESEARCH F/B page. The originals of these paintings have (unsurprisingly) been sold, but they are available as limited-edition prints. Antonius will generously be donating proceeds of sale from the series to support the on-going parrot research. The images are ©Antonius Roberts – thanks to him and to Caroline for use permission

A recent reception was held in Nassau to showcase this series of paintings. You will find more about them by clicking the link to open a pdf of the reception brochure ABACO PARROT PAINTINGS Caroline Stahala contributed an excellent one-page article about the Abaco Parrots and their conservation – click on it to enlarge to legible size

Contact Antonius via email to hillsidehousebs@gmail.com or check out his website by clicking the parrot

FISH FRENZY AT FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO, BAHAMAS


FISH FRENZY AT FOWL CAY MARINE PRESERVE, ABACO

This is the first short video from footage taken in June at Fowl Cay, 2000 acres of protected coral reef waters. This was the start of another great day out snorkelling and island-hopping with dive-diva Kay Politano of ABOVE & BELOW ABACO Marsh Harbour.  In due course there will be more videos of fish and coral. There is very slight evidence that lessons have been learned since last year’s erratic novice snorkeler / underwater photographer efforts. Still a way to go of course. The production process has been hampered by a major format problem between my camera chip thingy and the Mac I now use. It told me the data was unrecognisable / corrupted / damaged etc, which was massively disappointing. Then I thought of  <<techno-tip>> downloading to an old PC and transferring to the Mac on a memory stick. Problem solved.

This huge swirling mass of (tens of) thousands of small fish confronted me as I round one end of the reef. I’ve never seen anything like it before, except on TV. It was an astounding, dizzy-making spectacle. When I swam into the middle of the shoal, I expected to feel tickled all over – but despite the huge numbers of fish, their speed, and their sudden and apparently random direction changes, I wasn’t conscious of feeling them at all. I assume the commotion resulted from the presence of larger fish feeding on the small ones. Or possibly from my appearance…

Music credit: Gordon Giltrap (Hofner champion) ‘Fast Approaching’

THE GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH ON ABACO


THE GREATER ANTILLEAN BULLFINCH ON ABACO

This is a well-know bird (Loxigilla violacea) that can be seen on Abaco all year round. With their scarlet bibs and eyebrows, the males are a cheerful sight in coppice or garden. The females are paler brown, with orange accessories.

While still officially rated as a species of ‘Least Concern’, a measurable fall in population in recent years has seen them nudging towards ‘Vulnerable’. 

                                  


Greater Antillean Bullfinch song from Paul Driver at Xeno-Canto

Antillean Bullfinches enjoy garden feeders – and their larger size means that they are higher up in the pecking order than the black-faced grassquits and other small birds 

They are one of the many popular Bahamian bird species to have featured on postage stamps – in fact they scooped the high-value $10 stamp in 1991 and the $5 stamp in 2001

                                                                    

BAHAMAS CONCH QUEST – GASTROPODS, SHELLS & CONSERVATION


BAHAMAS CONCH QUEST – GASTROPODS, SHELLS & CONSERVATION

Conchs are among the most familiar of all shells. On Abaco they are everywhere: in the sea, on the beach, used ornamentally in gardens, piled up wherever conch is on the menu… (basically, anywhere serving food)

Conchs have other uses besides being a staple food. They provide sought-after pink pearls.  Only about 1 conch in 10,000 has a pearl, so bear in mind that if you miss one during your search, you may have another 10,000 to wade through… Conchs can produce music, of a sort (such as when used enthusiastically by the famous ‘conch-blower’ home-team supporter during cricket Test Matches in the West Indies). They are undeniably decorative on a porch or on a shelf.

Conchs have featured in literature and film. In William Golding’s Lord of the Flies the conch represents power and order. A conch is blown to call meetings of the marooned boys. Its power is symbolised by the rule that you have to be holding it to speak at the meeting (an idea that many – all? – Parliaments could benefit from…)

Ian Fleming mentions conchs in several of the Bond books, all such references being totally eclipsed by the memory of the appearance, in the film Dr No, of Honeychile Rider emerging from the sea, conch in hand. Oh, I see. That’s just men is it? Or (good grief) just me? Anyway, may we all agree amicably that Ursula Andress was a most decorative conch carrier?

CONCH CONSERVATION

The supply of conchs is not infinite. Overfish them, take them before maturity  or pollute their habitat and this valuable marine resource depletes – and conchs, as with so many marine species, will become threatened. Fortunately there is a Bahamas-wide conservation organisation with a website packed with interest. 

COMMUNITY CONCH is “a nonprofit organization that aims to protect queen conchs in the Bahamas, a species of mollusk threatened by aggressive over-fishing. We promote sustainable harvest of queen conch through research, education and community-based conservation”

community conch logo

“Helping to sustain a way of life in the Bahamas”

Much of the research has been carried out in Berry Is, Andros and Exuma Cays. However the team has recently been based at Sandy point, Abaco. To see some of their work on Abaco CLICK LINK===>> ABACO EXPEDITION   

In many past posts I have listed ’10 Essential Facts’ about the topic discussed. In that spirit I have borrowed and slightly edited CC’s conch facts; and added a CC video of a conch’s stately ‘full speed ahead’ progress. NB No zoom… 

12 CONCH FACTS

  • The queen conch is a large edible sea snail native to the coasts of the Caribbean, the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, and Bermuda. Conchs are herbivores – they eat algae and other tiny marine plants
  • Main predators include nurse sharks, loggerhead turtles, other snail species, blue crabs, eagle rays, spiny lobsters, and other crustaceans
  • Mating aggregations may contain hundreds or even thousands of individual male and female conchs
  • Female conchs lay hundreds of thousands of tiny eggs in a sandy egg mass. The larvae emerge after 5 days and may drift on ocean currents for a month before settling in suitable habitat on the sea floor
  • In their first year conchs live under the sand during the day & come out to feed on the surface at night
  • A queen conch may take 5 years to reach maturity and can reproduce
  • They live an average of 7 years, but are known to live as long as 20 – 30 years
  • Conchs produce natural pearls that come in a range of hues, including white, brown, orange & pink
  • The conch is listed by CITES as a species which may become threatened with extinction if trade is not tightly controlled
  • It is now illegal to take queen conchs in the state of Florida due to severe overfishing
  • 80% of legal internationally traded conch is consumed in the United States. The smuggling of conch meat into the U.S. is a significant challenge to conch management in The Bahamas
  • Queen conch are vulnerable to overfishing because they are (1) relatively slow to grow (2) late to mature (3) aggregate to mate (4) easily harvested in shallow waters

A SPEEDY CONCH

(Conch photos taken by RH / Mrs RH at Sandy Point, Abaco)