ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS

The latest version of the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAHAMAS PROPOSAL FOR THE EXPANSION OF THE PROTECTED AREA SYSTEM OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS has been published. It is a joint proposal by the Bahamas Government, The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust. The breadth of the scheme is very ambitious, affecting all the principal Bahama Islands. To understand the objectives and scope of the project, you can see the whole 34-page project by clicking BAHAMAS PROPOSED PROTECTED AREAS 2014 It is in pdf format, so you should be able to save it if you wish to.

Many people will be familiar with the proposals as they affect Abaco. However since the latest version appears to be a final draft, I thought it might be helpful to show the 4 proposed areas of protection and conservation in their present form. These are, in summary:

  1. THE ABACO MARLS NATIONAL RESERVE A vast area of nearly 200,000 acres (300 square miles) of mangrove flats, sandbanks, creeks and wetland habitat
  2. EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK 13,000 acres (20 square miles) of wetland habitat that provides a vital wildlife nursery, and includes blue holes, creeks and a significant area for recreational activities (though Pete’s Pub at Little Harbour may be just outside the zone…)
  3. CROSS HARBOUR PROTECTED AREA 14,000 acres (21 square miles) in South West Abaco, a crucial breeding area for a number of species,including bonefish
  4. SOUTH ABACO BLUE HOLES CONSERVATION AREA  A huge 34,000 acre (53 square miles) swathe of South Abaco to the west of the E D Highway, incorporating 4 inland blue holes and important cave systems, and 13 offshore blue holes. This is an area of mainly pine forest on land and low waters at sea, with an anticipated value for eco-tourism

Here are the BNT maps showing the extent of each area. Far more information will be found via the link to the report given above. 

THE ABACO PROPOSALS

Abaco Preserves 1 copy

Abaco Preserves 2 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 3 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 4 copyjpg

Credits: Parrot, (ex-)parrot protector Caroline Stahala; Maps, BNT; acres to sq m conversion, Gizmo!

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS


Cormorant WWT 12

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS

Cormorants are strange creatures. Strange to look at. Strange in their relationship with humans – love / hate in fishing terms and good / evil in mythology. Strangely useless for poetry, since – like the words ‘purple’ and ‘orange’ – there is no pure rhyme for the word cormorant. But they are undeniably striking, and a cormorant on the Abaco Marls effortlessly gliding inches above the water is an impressive sight.

Cormorant WWT 1Cormorant WWT 5

The cormorant’s name originates from the Latin name ‘Corvus Marinus’, the Sea Raven. Cormorants belong to the ‘Pelican’ order of birds known as the pelecaniformes that also encompasses tropicbirds, frigatebirds and anhingas. Worldwide, there are around 40 different species of cormorant. In many parts of the world, this seabird has established itself inland. Angling communities are increasingly concerned by the spread of this bird along productive fishing rivers, often far from the sea shore. In the UK as elsewhere they are very bad news for prime fishing rivers.

Cormorant WWT 8

Splosh! Gull Photobomb! It wasn’t there when I decided to press the trigger…Cormorant WWT 4 (gull photobomb)Itchy neck? You just have to scratch it…Cormorant WWT 6Relaxed now, thanks…Cormorant WWT 7

The birds here were photographed in the UK on Halloween. While the world was preparing to immerse up to its neck in blood, guts, gore and spider webs, I was out armed only with a camera in unseasonably warm sunshine. So these are Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, the species found in the UK. They a remarkably similar to the Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus found on Abaco but larger and with a pale cheek and upper neck. This was a perfect day for the cormorants to enjoy their preening and wing-drying routines.

Cormorant WWT 9 Cormorant WWT 10 Cormorant WWT 11  Cormorant WWT 13

Last sight of the one on the small rock: “Hey, photographer, for !@£$%&* sake leave me alone, ok?”Cormorant WWT 14

I will be writing about Neotopic Cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus on Abaco in detail soon, but for comparative purposes here is one from Bruce Hallett taken on Teasure Cay Golf Course, where the ponds are usually a productive birding resource (check in at the clubhouse for permission first).

Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

And as for the very familiar double-crested cormorant, here is a great photo taken on Abaco by Jim Todd of three chicks growing up fast in their unusual double-decker nest…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Credits: All photos RH except the last 2, Bruce Hallett and Jim Todd

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


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A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

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Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1′ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb'; ‘bloody good'; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

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RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS


Stingrays Abaco Marls 1

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS

The Marls of Abaco are prime bonefishing grounds, a vast area of labyrinthine mangrove swamps, sandy islets, channels and shallow flats on the west side of the main island. The fish are wily and powerful, the fly hooks are barbless, and each one caught, retained, boated and swiftly released is a prize. There’s plenty of other wildlife to be seen. Heron and egrets, ospreys, belted kingfishers, wading birds and many other bird species make the Marls their home. In the water, there are snappers, jacks, barracuda, and sharks of various kinds and sizes. These latter range from small black tip, lemon and hammerhead sharks to more substantial contenders, with the occasional massive bull shark to add a frisson for those on a suddenly fragile-seeming skiff… 

There are also rays. I have posted before about the SOUTHERN STINGRAY and the YELLOW STINGRAY Out on the Marls I have mainly seen Southerns as they move serenely and unhurriedly through the warm shallow water. A couple of weeks ago, we were out with the rods when we had a completely new Ray experience. I’m not overly given to anthropomorphism and getting too emotional about encounters, but we all found this one quite moving – even our very experienced guide.

Gliding to our right side, a pair of stingrays slowed as they neared the skiffStingrays Abaco Marls 2

The adult paused very close to us, allowing the little ray to catch upStingrays Abaco Marls 3

Lifting a wing slightly the adult let the juvenile creep under, while keeping a beady eye on usStingrays Abaco Marls 4

The large ray was missing the tip of its tail, presumably from some adverse encounterStingrays Abaco Marls 5

The creatures examined us carefully for 2 or 3 minutes, before separatingStingrays Abaco Marls 6

Then they slowly drifted away across the sand…Stingrays Abaco Marls 7

According to our guide, this gently protective behaviour is not uncommon. They may well have been completely unrelated, the large ray tolerating the smaller one accompanying it through the waters and offering a kindly wing in the presence of danger or suspicious objects like us.

Photo Credits: Mrs RH (I was too entranced at the sharp end, with a bird’s eye view, to get a camera out)

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS


Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS

Anglers are not the only creatures out fishing on the Marls. Herons and egrets of several sorts live in the massive area of mangrove swamp, shallow sea and sandy spits that make up the prime bonefishing grounds of Abaco. Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be joined by an osprey. Hooking my ‘Delphi Daddy’ safely into a rod ring, I grabbed a camera and took some shots. These aren’t that great because (a) I normally only take a small cheap camera out fishing (b) the bird was some away off and (c ) my image qualities are variable… These aren’t really worth clicking to enlarge, but I’m pleased to have got some ‘action shots’ of this wonderful bird.

Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 4

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED


Abaco Bonefish a

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED

Here is my fly box. It is a qualified success, as is my fishing. The fly box is rather better organised than I am, though. Some of the flies in it are routinely ignored by others to whom I helpfully offer the box.  I’ve found the best plan is to stick with the silvery shrimpy patterns, especially the ones with pink heads. Then nobody gets upset. And from time to time I get lucky (see header image).

BF flies3a

Recently, a proper fisherman started to follow my blog, and I his. I immediately recognised one of the fishing lakes on his site, one where I have fished in the past. One thing led to another and I seem to have agreed to trial some of Mark’s expertly tied flies on the Abaco flats in March…

Mark’s Bonefish Patternsimage24

I am very keen on the principles of ‘Catch and Release’. So keen that I have developed my own specialist methods (designed for fishing with barbless hooks) using what might be termed ‘Early C&R’. These may include some or all of the following on any given day: 

  1.  ‘THE PHANTOM CATCH’ As the fish follows the fly, and the instant before it commits to a lunge for it, abruptly whisk the fly away from under its nose with a sharp reflex ‘trout-strike’. This will ensure that both the fish and your fly remain untroubled by actual contact. This is the most advanced form of Early C&R.
  2. ‘THE BIG MISSED TAKE’ As the fish takes your fly firmly in its mouth, become preoccupied by the fact that your left foot is planted firmly on a horrid tangle of line around your feet. You will feel the solid take, but instantly realise that your retrieve is hopelessly compromised. With some relief, you feel the line go slack as the fish shakes itself free…
  3. ‘THE REEL THING’ Hook the fish. Feel the weight on the end of the line. It’s heavy. Nice one! Turn in muted triumph to your boat partner to shout excitedly “Got One”. As you do so, allow the line somehow to snag round the rod handle and the reel simultaneously. Before you have even begun to figure how to sort this out, the fish will have released itself and be heading for the horizon.
  4. ‘THE STICKY SITUATION’ Hook the fish. Reel in confidently, keeping the line taut and the fish under your masterful control. Allow it to run if it wishes. Proceed with the same efficiency until you notice a single mangrove stem sticking out of the water 30 feet away. Using your skill, ensure that the fish suddenly has the chance to move to the other side of the stick, winding the leader or line (either will do) round it. Prepare for the ‘twang’ when the inevitable break occurs.  Your fish is away.
  5. ‘THE MANGROVE SWAMP’ Hook a fish. Play it competently until the moment your boat partner or guide gives you some word of encouragement or (worse) praise. Immediately, permit the fish to make a fast break for the nearest clump of mangroves even if it is over 100 feet away. The consequent entanglement round the myriad stems will be sure to lose you the fish and your fly. NOTE: all third party encouragement will diminish after this form of EC&R. Praise will not be repeated.

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Mark has just made a challenge public on his website in a post called  All aboard for Abaco! “This little packet of flies is destined for the Bahamas… What stories will they conjure up in time? Rolling Harbour, Abaco… All will be revealed in time! Thanks in advance to RH – I will keep everyone posted in due course! Looking forward to some beautiful pictures of Bonefish…” The flies in question are shown below. It is expected that they will prove to be effective. The expectation is Mark’s. My own feeling is more one of hope. I hope he knows what he is doing. I hope I know what I am doing.*

Rolling Harbour, Abaco... All will be revealed in time!

*The plan is to ask my boat-partner and guide – anyone with access to a rod, really – to “have a go with one of these little guys”. They are far less likely to be as skilled as I am at Early C&R, and are therefore far more likely to boat a fish. Job done…

Photos: RH, 1st two; the rest by Mark

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco 12

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

This is the second of three vaguely planned posts about these delightful shore birds. They aren’t rare but they are approachable and fun to watch. During the nesting and hatching season, there may even be some gorgeous chicks on a beach near you (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself using). PART ONE identified the typical male and female adults found on the Delphi beach almost any day. 

Nettie's Point, Abaco - Trucks & Skiffs

This post is about nest protection. Not the ingenious methods of  the birds themselves, that will come next time. This is a story of protection by humans. The photograph above shows Nettie’s Point, one of the launching points for bonefishing skiffs being taken out to the Marls, a vast area of sea, low sand banks and mangroves where the fish are found. You hope. The skiffs gain access to open sea via an artificial channel carved out of rock. The early morning trip along it is one of the most exciting part of a fisherman’s day, as he or she sets out with a clean score sheet, a rod and a box of flies. And a cooler box with some food and maybe a Kalik beer or three.

Nettie's Point, Abaco - the cut to the sea

This June, a pair of plovers decided to locate their nesting ‘scrape’ right in the middle of the cleared area where the trucks normally turn. This was by no means a wise home-planning decision, and they might well have found themselves being promptly relocated. Or (worst case scenario) ending up under a large Toyota. But not a bit of it. Instead, these small birds were looked after by the guides like this: Nettie's Point, Abaco - Plover's nest protection

A makeshift castle was built all round the nest to protect it from any inadvertent truck-related tragedies. Meanwhile the male plover stood guard outside the castle, amiably watching the human activities. Nettie's Point, Abaco - Male Wilson's Plover guards nest

I kept my distance but in fact he was quite unperturbed, perhaps sensing that we were not a threat. He still kept a beady eye on the proceedings, though.Nettie's Point, Abaco - male Wilson's Plover guards a nest

Meanwhile, what of the wooden enclosure itself? At first glance, there didn’t look much to report. However, if you look in the centre of the picture, you’ll see the female peeping out from the nest.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Nest protection 2

I very slowly moved nearer, prepared to stop if the male became agitated, or if the female shifted her position. Both seemed quite relaxed, so I took a couple of shots and walked away to leave the birds in peace. Then I went fishing.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Female Wilson's Plover on NestNettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest

As a postscript, Nettie’s Point is the location of a remarkable geographical phenomenon, possibly the result of the cutting of the channel. Along one part of the cut, for about 30 feet, the water level sinks alarming in the middle, while remaining normal at each side. Then it levels out again. This remarkable mid-stream aquatic depression is quite disconcerting to motor through on a skiff, though eventually one gets used to it. Nettie's Point, Abaco - channel water phenomenon(Note: not every fact in this post is 100% true. If you have some salt handy, take a pinch)