“GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF” A c19 NATURALIST VISITS ABACO


GLIMPSES OF LIFE ALONG A CORAL REEF by F. H. HERRICK

This post is aimed at those with a particular interest in the flora and fauna – especially avifauna – of Abaco and its Cays. It is a naturalist’s account from 1886 of an expedition to Abaco, interspersed with a few line drawings. It’s an easy read if you are interested in Abaco, its history, and the state of natural life on the islands 125 years ago. Those who have come to this site for the photos and / or even the occasional jest are warned to expect neither. However, to tempt waverers I’ll highlight below (by way of a quiz) some intriguing aspects of the 9-page article. I have had to edit it to correct the many ‘literals’ in the open-source material; however the c19 spellings are retained. I’ve also added coloured subject-matter codes as follows: PLACE NAMES; BIRDS; PLANTS; FISH; CREATURES

In 1886, Herrick visited Abaco with a party of naturalists. This trip predated by 3 years the publication of Charles Cory’s groundbreaking ‘Birds of the West Indies‘. There would have been scant readily-available published material about the natural history of the Bahamas, let alone of Abaco itself. Herrick and a friend left the main party and went on their own wider explorations of Abaco with two local guides. Herrick recorded their findings, which were subsequently published in ‘Popular Science Monthly‘ in 1888. In Herrick’s wide-ranging account of the adventure you will find the answers to the following 15 questions. If any one of them whets your appetite to read this historic account, press the link below the quiz!

  • What fruit might you have found growing in fields on Abaco in 1886?
  • What was the local name for the perforated rock at Hole-in-the-Wall?
  • What is an “egg-bird”?
  • What was causing “the gradual extermination” of flamingos?
  • What were “shanks” and “strikers”?
  • To what human use were Wilson’s Terns put?
  • How many eggs does a tropic-bird lay?
  • What law prevented the shooting of tropic-birds, and indeed any other bird, by naturalists?
  • What sort of creature is a “sennet”?
  • Which was rated the better for eating – grouper or ‘barracouta’ (sic)?
  • Who or what is or are “grains”?
  • What common creature had a burning touch like a sharp needle?
  • What bird was reckoned to have the call ‘loarhle-ee’ ?
  • What – or indeed who – was described as a “pilepedick”?
  • What creature laid 139 eggs?

ABACO NATURAL HISTORY Popular Science Monthly Volume 32 January 1888

PINE FOREST REGENERATION AFTER FIRES ON ABACO IN 2011


MARCH 2011 Fires swept through large areas of South Abaco, spreading rapidly and jumping the firebreak of the Highway in several places. At any one time, there were several ‘non-natural’ seats of fire. For 3 days the flames were uncomfortably close to the Delphi Club, halted only by the natural boundary between the flammable pine forest and the damper less combustible coppice. The smoke caused some amazing visual effects, especially at sunset. The first image was taken looking east from the Club verandah one evening as the fire got nearer

The vegetation alongside and between the drives was dense and lushly green before the fires. Here is a photo as fire began to take hold near the top of the drives towards the road, having jumped the Highway in the night…

As the fire rapidly spreads, this tall dead tree is actually flaming from the top

During the next couple of days, we took photographs along the drives of the apocalyptic scenes where there had so recently been impenetrable vegetation. Nearly a year later, indispensable beachcomber and photographer Kasia has taken some pictures of the drives as they are now. First, two ‘then and now’ views of the same scenes to illustrate the extent of forest regeneration

2011

2012

2011

2012

2011 The burnt-out forest between the drives

2012 A wander round the drive circuit

In some places the undergrowth has returned but trees have not recovered

Elsewhere, blackened stumps are visible in amongst the vigorous regrowth

          

LIGNUM VITAE – BAHAMAS NATIONAL TREE



LIGNUM VITAE

NATIONAL TREE OF THE BAHAMAS & THE WOOD OF CRICKET BAILS

LIGNUM VITAE The “tree of life” (Guaiacum sanctum) is a very heavy wood with clusters of small blue flowers at the branch tips. Its strength, density and durability made it a valuable trade wood historically. It easily sinks in water and is the densest of all trade woods. As alternative materials and compounds have been discovered, the demand for LV has fallen… which is fortunate, since Lignum Vitae (also commonly known as Greenheart and Ironwood) is now considered a potentially endangered tree species. 

LIGNUM VITAE TREE IN HOPE TOWN, ELBOW CAY, ABACO

The wood had – and still has – many important uses. All cricketers know that bails of lignum vitae are used in windy conditions to forestall any “…and the bowler charges in… reaches his delivery stride and… oh my goodness the bails have blown off…” dramas.  The wood is also used in other sports: for bowls and skittle balls, and croquet mallets  Flower Image Credit Grooko 

LIGNUM VITAE TREE ON MAN-O-WAR CAY, ABACO       

Photo credit: Eric Forsyth of the Yacht Fiona    

10 MEMORABLE FACTS ABOUT LIGNUM VITAE

  • Traditionally, it was used for making British Police Truncheons (now made of soft fluffy pink fabric to reflect new caring policing methods)
  • Its physical qualities made it widely used in shipbuilding (though presumably not the whole ship, which would sink instantly)
  • Cabinet-makers, stone-carvers and gem-cutters all use the wood in their crafts
  • LV has many engineering uses. The wood is self-lubricating and is ideal for bearings. The 1st nuclear submarine had some of these
  • The world-renowned  UK fishing rod maker Hardy’s made a famous ‘Greenheart’ rod
  • LV has medical uses, including for arthritis; and its bark / shavings allegedly make a nice cup of “tea”… (Any evidence of this?)
  • A 1920’s calypso song “LignumVitae” was sensationally saucy for its allusions to the bark tea’s prophylactic quality in addition to exploiting the phallic connotations
  • Gabriel Garcia Márquez incorporates uses for the wood in two of his novels (neither of which I have read. Oh dear. The guilt)
  • Pete Seeger, singer / songwriter, made the neck of his banjo from LV
  • The wood is also connected to mauve tiling, vitamin glue, anti-evil gum and the ‘vigilant emu’ by anagrammatic chance 

A Lignum Vitae tree at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco, with a camera-shy juvenile black-faced grassquit

JANKA HARDNESS TEST

The Janka Hardness Test is an international test of the hardness of a given wood  by measuring the force needed to embed a steel ball to half its diameter. The size of the ball is internationally standardised, though the reading may be given in ‘local’ units. The hardest wood (using pounds/force units) is the Australian Buloke (5060); Lignum Vitae is the second hardest (4500). Other examples are Ebony (3220); Satinwood (1820); Zebrawood (1575); Caribbean Pine (1280); Teak (1000); Mahogany (800) Balsa (100).

A single lignum vitae flower                     

Some examples of items traditionally made from lignum vitae: gavels (auctioneers, TV Judiciary eg in Perry Mason); bowls; pestle & mortar; and (for dudes) a seriously cool guitar pick (less than $5 too)

   

PS 2012: I now have 2 hardwood plectrums (plectra?) to try out. The Lignum is nearly 3 times as hard as the Zebra wood. This does not imply that I am a dude (or even a superannuated one), but merely that I haven’t had the heart to dispose of my guitars. Mrs RH has a view about that… a strong one, I think

The above is cobbled together from Wiki and other snippets. Ta to all. An interesting site for a look at LV’s practical uses and some helpful information is Lignum-Vitae.com  CLICK LOGO===>>> 

The mention of cricket has made me nostalgic for the season just ended… UK – indeed any – cricket nuts will know exactly where I am coming from with this…

FLORA OF ABACO: ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ONE HIT


The ‘Flora’ part of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is a bit of a blind spot for me except in a very basic daffodils-tulips-roses english gardening sense. So it was with a massive sense of relief that, browsing through (namecheck here) ‘Dr Ralph’s Abaco Forum’, I stumbled across a comprehensive blog about the flora of Abaco with excellent pictures and very informative descriptions, posted by Iris Spikes. She includes notes about the plants that are poisonous, and those that have medicinal / antidotal properties. For example poisonwood and gumbo limbo trees grow side by side, as poison and antidote – you can find them growing together along the Delphi drives (the gumbo limbo fruit is especially popular with the Abaco Parrots).

With thanks for permission, I have added the web link to the Blogroll list so that you can get to it straight away. Please note that there are two linked posts – you get to part 2 from the link at the end of part 1.

Here are a few random flora images of ours, most now readily identifiable… Almost all (including the bananas outside our room) are from the Delphi gardens or beside the drives – and one cheat that is much more Abaco than UK

Powder Puff Tree - Calliandra haematocephala

Bananas (outside rooms 1 - 4)

Hibiscus

Coral or fringed hibiscus

Bougainevillea (pool area)

Bougainevillea (pool area)

Camelia

Thatch Palm
Bottle-brush tree (a cheat – in neighbours’ garden, London!)
Angel’s Trumpet (Datura Candida)

An epiphytic bromeliad (see below) on the guest drive

Staghorn Fern (Platycerium bifucatum) - also epiphytic

An epiphyte (or air plant) is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph post), deriving its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it and not from its host

FOREST FIRES ON ABACO: A BIT TOO CLOSE TO DELPHI HQ…


Mid-March saw the outbreak of an unnaturally large number of fires in the pine forests on (mainly) the west side of Abaco. Suspicion mostly fell on hog hunters wanting to clear the thick undergrowth. Many fires spread rapidly in the wind and some jumped the highway. For a couple of days there was increasing anxiety at Delphi, not wholly allayed by Sandy’s robust enthusiasm for driving guests intothe heart of the fires: “Look, I promise you, it’s perfectly safe ”. The big question: would the coppice stop the fire in its tracks as expected, or would the fire sweep through to the Club grounds and buildings? And (a members’ concern, this) were they adequately insured?

In the event, the Club was spared. However, much of the area between the road and the coppice in front of the Club was badly burned. The effect on the bird liferemains to be seen, though even after a few days there was evidence of greening up of foliage – an encouraging sign. Any hogs presumably managed to escape…

Here are some images, all of them taken from the Club or along the drives. Most (all but 2 now – I’ve fixed the rest) will enlarge with a click.

Setting sun from the Club verandah. At least 3 fire seats are visible

This tree along the guest drive kept smouldering for 3 or 4 days

A somewhat apocalyptic  sky

This area along the drives was dense bright green undergrowth two days earlier

A milky morning sun filters through onto snowy ash

Click to enlarge this image: you’ll see a flame at the top of the tall dead tree, like an oil refinery flare stack

Fire spreading in the wind and taking hold of a new area between the drives 

      

Another area that had been thickly wooded, with dense green undergrowth