“GOOD MIGRATIONS” by THE BEACH BIRDS


Piping Plover 32 (banded as an adult in 2010 at Manistee, MI Sleeping Bear Dunes N L, MI)

Banded in Michigan in 2010 – in Florida right now!

“GOOD MIGRATIONS” by THE BEACH BIRDS

It’s started already. The autumn migration of piping plovers from up north to down south. It seems only the other day (April in fact) that the last PIPL were seen on Abaco. Since then, they have spent the summer in their breeding grounds, raising families. This seems to have been a successful breeding season, with good reports that included a record number in the tiny Great Lakes population. But the attrition rate to predation is high: for example, of the 4 chicks in one family that was closely observed on Long Beach Island NJ, only one (‘Beth’) has survived.

Piping Plovers - 2 chicks, 2 eggs - CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping plovers: 2 chicks & 2 eggs, Connecticut

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THESE BIRDS?

A recent estimate put the world’s supply of these little birds at 8000. And of these, many spend their winter in the Bahamas, Abaco being one of their favoured destinations. The survival of the species is in the balance. Habitat degradation at either end of their migrations could be disastrous; at both ends, more than doubly so.

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

Piping Plover juvenile, Connecticut

HOW CAN THEIR SURVIVAL BE ASSURED?

A number of organisations and individuals are dedicated to looking out for the PIPL. This includes ensuring preservation of habitat integrity and protection on the beaches where they nest, and banding programs so that birds can be tracked and monitored during their migrations. This is one aspect which people on Abaco (and elsewhere) can help with – looking out for these birds, reporting their location and how many are seen, and if possible describing the bling: colour of bands, which legs, which order,visible numbers etc. Or better still, taking photos!

Piping Plover CT (Danny Sauvageau)

WHERE WILL I FIND PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO?

On beaches and shorelines. On the mainland, places where they were reported last year included Long Beach, Crossing Rocks, Schooner Bay, the beach at Delphi, Bahamas Palm Shores, Casuarina and Little Harbour. They also visit the cays, with a number reported on Man-o-War Cay for example.Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 3

HOW FAR HAVE THEY GOT SO FAR?

Danny Sauvageau, who monitors beaches in Florida, has just reported the first arrivals. On 23 July he saw 3 unbanded PIPL in Dunedin Fl. – here’s one of them.Piping Plover, Dunedin, FL (Danny Sauvageau)

Then on 29 July Danny found his first banded Piping Plovers of the 2015-16 wintering season at Fort Desoto – 6 birds of which 5 were banded. This enabled him to recognise them as returners, and to identify their origin: “Two were from the Great Lakes (Michigan), two were from the Great Plains (North Dakota and South Dakota) and one was from Nebraska!”.

These 3 examples show the wide variation in banding in the different locations. Which is why a photo of a bird’s legs is particularly helpful for the research into the species.

PPL-106- 2nd year at Ft Desoto - Banded in Nebraska PPL-35 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a chick 2012 Vermillion, MI along Lake Superior PPL-2 - 3rd year at Ft Desoto - Banded as a adult 2013 Whitefish Point, MI along Lake Superior

The CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is involved annually with researching the piping plovers of Abaco. Many will be familiar with the scientists Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger who visit each year to monitor the plovers. For those who do not already have a direct line to them I would be very pleased to receive reports of sightings to collate and pass on. The monitoring work provides exactly the kind of information that will help to ensure the survival of this adorable but vulnerable species. Please email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.comPiping Plover Charadrius melodus (Ontario, MDF : wiki)

The most helpful information to have is date; time; location; number of birds; whether banded or unbanded; and if banded, as much information as possible or ideally a photo…

lbi-piping-plover-chick

TYPICAL MUSICAL DEVIATION FROM THE TOPIC

The referencing in the title to a famous ‘disc’ from 1966 by a ‘popular beat combo’ does not presage a re-formation. In the past there was acrimony. Some drink ‘n’ drugs hell. Splits and re-formations. Sadly not all former members are still with us. Here’s a memory of them from (arguably) their most satisfyingly inventive era… **EARWORM ALERT**and now you won’t be able to get the wretched tune out of your head. Sorry about that.

Credits: All photos courtesy of Danny Sauvageau except ‘lone chick’ MDF & ‘chick in hand’ CWFNJ; shout outs to Danny, Todd, Stephanie and all PIPL researchers. And the Beach Boys…

HOW TO CATCH FISH EFFECTIVELY, OSPREY-STYLE


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Osprey (Abaco, Bahamas) – Tom Sheley

HOW TO CATCH FISH EFFECTIVELY, OSPREY-STYLE

I have featured the wonderful photography of Phil Lanoue before. He specialises in taking sequences of the larger birds, many of them as they hunt for fish: herons, egrets, anhingas – and ospreys. Here is a remarkable sequence of an osprey showing its fishing skills, with a surprise ending that I won’t give away.

osprey-catches-two-fish-01 (Phil Lanoue)osprey-catches-two-fish-02  (Phil Lanoue) osprey-catches-two-fish-03  (Phil Lanoue) osprey-catches-two-fish-04  (Phil Lanoue) osprey-catches-two-fish-05  (Phil Lanoue)

Pretty cool trick, huh?osprey-catches-two-fish-06  (Phil Lanoue)

Credits: Header image – Tom Sheley; Osprey sequence – Phil Lanoue. Many thanks to both for use permission

“CLINGING TO THE WRECKAGE”: BAHAMAS CLINGING CRABS


Clinging crab in smoke stack on Theo's Wreck ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

“CLINGING TO THE WRECKAGE”: BAHAMAS CLINGING CRABS

The Clinging Crab Mithrax spinosissimus answers to a number of names: West Indian spider crab, channel clinging crab, reef or spiny spider crab, or coral crab. It is found throughout the waters of South Florida and the Caribbean. Clinging Crab ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

These are crabs of the reef, or indeed of the wrecks that may be found around reefs. Some of the crabs in this post have chosen wrecks as their home – in the header image the crab is living inside the smoke stack of ‘Theo’s Wreck’, Grand Bahama.Clinging Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

The clinging crab is believed to be omniverous, its main diet being algae and carrion. They can grow to 2 kg, and it is the largest species of reef crab found in the Caribbean.Clinging Crab © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The clinging crab / West Indian spider crab is (apparently) not commercially harvested for its meat. However, it is said to be delicious. Any views on this welcome in the comments section! If you want to know more about how to prepare (“a real challenge”) and cook a spider crab, check out this LINK

Clinging Crab ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Life on the reef can be dangerous. This crab has lost some legs: its clinging powers are somewhat curtailed…Clinging Crab (legs missing) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

This guy has some missing parts, but seems quite laid back about it…Clinging Crab, Bahamas (Melinda Riger, G B Scuba)

Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba (all photos); Tom Hunt, eco-chef (recipe)

‘CHECK OUT THE WEB': SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO


Semi-Palmated Plover, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

‘CHECK OUT THE WEB': SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS ON ABACO

“Semipalmated”. You what? Come again? Ehhhh? My reactions to the word until embarrassingly recently. In fact until the steep learning curve involved in writing a bird book made some all of the terminology clearer. Plovers and sandpipers both have semipalmated versions, and I’ll take the semipalmated plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) first.

Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?

A small shorebird with a grey-brown back and wings, a white underside with a single black neck band, and orange legs. They have a brown cap, a white forehead, a black eye mask and a short black bill with an orange base to it. And feet to be discussed below.Semi-palmated Plover WB P1001211 copySemipalmated Plover, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

WHERE DO THEY LIVE?

Their summer home and breeding habitat is on the beaches and flats of northern Canada and Alaska. They nest in scrapes on the ground right out in the open. In the Autumn these little birds set off on long journeys south to warmer climes until Spring: the coasts of the southern states, Caribbean and South America. On Abaco, they are fairly common in certain areas including the beach at Delphi. Like other plovers, these  birds are gregarious and will mix in with other shorebirds – which can make them hard to pick out in the crowd.Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

GET ON WITH THE ‘SEMIPALMATED’ BIT, PLEASE

‘Semipalmated’ refers to the partial webbing between their toes. There are different degrees of palmation, as these handy graphics demonstrate:

Semipalmate: in practice, very hard so see in the field e.g. plovers & sandpipers semipalmate

Palmate: full webbing across the ‘front’ 3 toes, e.g. gulls

palmate

Totipalmate: all toes are fully webbed e.g. cormorants

totipalmate

Nonpalmate: please supply own imagination 

Gregarious flight: there are sandpipers in the mix (clue: long bills)Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

WHAT DO THESE BIRDS EAT?

Semipalmated plovers are much like any other small shorebird foraging on beaches and foreshores. They eat insects, crustaceans and worms. Here is a bird in a promising place for its preferred diet.

Semipalmated Plover, Abaco (f, nb) Bruce Hallett FV

ANYTHING ELSE TO LOOK OUT FOR?

Like other plover species – Wilson’s and Killdeer for example – a semipalmated will  use the ‘broken wing’ ploy to lure a predator away from a nest and the eggs or chicks in it. As it flops about pathetically on the sand looking vulnerable, it actually moves gradually further away from the nest. If it comes to the crunch it is able to take wing rapidly, leaving a very puzzled predator behind.Semipalmated_Plover,_broken_wing_display (D Gordon E Robertson)

Semipalmated plovers flying with 2 sandpipersSemi-palmated Plover AH IMG_0612 jpg

Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 6, 9, 10); Woody Bracey (2, 3); Tony Hepburn (4); Charles Skinner (5); Bruce Hallett (7); D Gordon E Robertson (8);  Bird foot infographics people.eku.edu AH IMG_1637 copy

LIMESTONE CAVES ON ABACO: WELL WORTH LOOKING INTO…


Abaco Parrot nest (Caroline Stahala)

LIMESTONE CAVES ON ABACO: WELL WORTH LOOKING INTO…

I have written several posts in the last few months featuring Brian Kakuk’s amazing photos of the underwater caves of Abaco. These caves, mostly beneath Abaco’s pine forests, are fabulous treasures of rock and crystal. A recent post example can be seen HERE. I have also featured some of the famous Blues Holes of Abaco from time to time, for example HERE. So now it’s time to turn attention to ‘land caves’, the dry(ish) limestone holes and caverns that are dotted around Abaco, especially in the South, and bear witness to aeons of geological development through erosion.

The coppice and extensive pine forests are pitted with holes of widely varying sizes. I’m way out of my depth here, geology-wise (polite corrections invited), but this sort of landscape is I believe known as KARST. This term presumably includes Abaco’s ‘dry’ holes, the blue holes and the substantial network of underwater caverns. Small examples can readily be found in easily accessible places such as non-dense coppice. We were very surprised when we pushed our into the coppice bordering the Delphi Club guest drive and took a closer look at a hole. Although the weather was hot and dry at the time, you will see that the hole has some form of micro-climate, with damp walls and interior and wet-climate plants like small ferns and forms of what I take to be moss and algae.

ONE OF MANY LIMESTONE HOLES BESIDE THE DRIVES AT DELPHILimestone Hole, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A HOLE NEAR HOLE-IN-THE -WALL – LARGER INSIDE THAN IT LOOKS 

Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco01  Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco03

THE CAVE-DWELLERS OF ABACO: THE FABULOUS PARROTS

Among the best-known special residents of Abaco are the ground-nesting parrots, gorgeous birds that I have often featured in the past – see the parrot page HERE. Not so long ago, their numbers had reduced to an unsustainable population – fewer than 1000 – that faced extinction. The creation of the National Park covering the pine forests where they breed, coupled with a vigilant and intensive conservation program, have reversed the trend. There is now a sustainable breeding population again, exceeding 3000 birds.  

The only other breeding Cuban parrot population in the Bahamas is found on Inagua, where they nest conventionally in trees. There is a very small non-breeding population on New Providence. Abaco’s cave-dwelling subspecies of the cuban parrot is unique. Here’s an insight into how they live, deep in the pine forest, during the summer breeding season, with many thanks to Caroline Stahala, the scientist who spent some 10 years researching and protecting the parrots.

PARROT NEST HOLES: VULNERABLE TO PREDATORS, PROTECTED FROM FOREST FIRESLimestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala) Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

PARROTS MAY NEST DEEP – OR SHALLOW. Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

THE BREEDING SEASON: NEST, EGGS, HATCHLINGS, FLEDGELINGS…Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots 08Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)Limestone Holes & Abaco Parrots (Caroline Stahala)

HOW BIG DO THE ‘DRY’ HOLES GET?

TBH my personal experience is somewhat limited. I believe there are large, sea-scoured caves along rocky parts of the south coast, but those are rather different from the eroded ground holes discussed here. As so often I rely on Mrs RH – far more intrepid than me – and her exploring skills. The cave shown below is right down at the far south of Abaco, at Hole-in-the-Wall, hidden in the coppice along the ‘Soldier Road’ from the T-junction (we are talking rough tracks here – very – not proper roads) towards the lighthouse. 

Soldier Road Sign, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco

Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco15Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco16Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco06Limestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco13

The rock is far more colourful than you  might expectLimestone Hole, Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco09

Credits: Caroline “The Parrot Lady” Stahala; Mrs RH for investigating the last cave and taking the camera with her; RH the rest; Woody Bracey for our great day of birding at Hole-in-the-Wall and his local knowledge of the area… 

WHEN A BIG BILL JUST MAKES YOU SMILE… WILSON’S SNIPE ON ABACO


Wilson's Snipe (Birds Caribbean)

WHEN A BIG BILL JUST MAKES YOU SMILE… WILSON’S SNIPE ON ABACO

Wilson’s snipe Gallinago delicata is a plump little bird that is classified as a shorebird. But unlike some, it is not confined to the shore and immediate hinterland – marshland or brackish pond regions are also favoured habitats. Until recently (2003) the Wilson’s was treated as a subspecies of the widespread Common Snipe, before being accorded its own species-status. Something to do with white on the wing edges and a couple more tail feathers. If you want to know who Mr Wilson was (who also ‘owns’ other birds such as a plover and a phalarope) you can find out HERE.

A Wilson’s Snipe on Abaco (but not on the shore…)WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)     WILSON'S SNIPE, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The snipe, in common with several species such as the woodcock, willet and dowitcher, has a notably long bill. The header image is one of the best I have come across that clearly illustrate it, and comes from the extensive archive of the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN. The naturalist concerned noted “…check out this remarkable bill. If you have not held a shorebird like this in your hand, the bill is pliable, flexible, and innervated. The snipe feels its way through the muck and then plucks the worm out like tweezers”.

SNIPES AND SNIPERS

The snipe has the misfortune to be a game bird. In the c19, its populations began to reduce due to habitat destruction – especially the draining of marshland – to which it is still vulnerable, of course. But more serious was its increasing popularity with hunters as a difficult bird to shoot, with its fast, jagging flight. A hunter skilled enough to shoot snipe successfully became known as a “sniper”, a usage coined some 200 years ago. I imagine the verb ‘to snipe (at)’  a person derives from this usage, meaning to fire off a quick, accurate, possibly hurtful remark.

Despite these drawbacks, there are enough snipe for the species to remain IUCN-listed ‘least concern’. In the Bahamas, they can be hunted between autumn and spring. This is the relevant page from the BNT HUNTERS’ GUIDE 

Wilson's Snipe BNT Hunters' Guide jpg

800px-Wilsons_Snipe_Richmond_BC Alan D. Wilson

WILL I SEE WISNs ON ABACO?

Although the Wilson’s snipe is one of the most widespread shorebirds in North America, they are far less readily found on Abaco. For a start, they are migratory in the Bahamas, and only resident in winter (broadly, October to March), their non-breeding season. So don’t expect to find them during your pleasant stay in June.  Secondly, they are classed as ‘rare’, one grade harder to find than ‘uncommon’. Thirdly, they are shy and well-camouflaged. Unless they choose to be out in the open – foraging in water, or maybe standing on a post – they can be very hard to see. And in winter it seems they tend to hunker down more and fly less than in the breeding season. Maybe they show more in summer because they know it’s the closed season for hunting… Compare the next two images, one taken on Abaco in winter, and one (cheers, Wiki) elsewhere in the summer.

A winter snipe on Abaco – shy, retiring and blending in with its surroundingsWilson's Snipe, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Wilson’s snipe in summer, confidently on a post in summer (closed season for hunters…)800px-Common_snipe_fencepost (Sean Breazeal)

DO SNIPES HAVE A DISTINCTIVE CALL THAT I WILL INSTANTLY RECOGNISE?

Not really, I’m afraid. Not easy for an amateur (me). They have a variety of vocalisations – calls, flight calls, and songs. They also make a sound called ‘winnowing’ with their tails while in flight. Here are a few short examples.

CALL / SONG Harry Lehto Xeno Canto

CALL /SONG Pasi Pirinen Xeno Canto

CALL Richard E Webster Xeno Canto

FLIGHT CALL Paul Marvin Xeno Canto

Now that the wonderful Crossley Guide ID bird images are available ‘open source’, I shall be including them in future species posts. When I remember. Their advantage is that in one image you can see all aspects of a paricular species – gender, breeding plumage, typical ‘poses’, in flight and so forth. A truly great resource for bird identification.Wilson's_Snipe_from_The_Crossley_ID_Guide_Eastern_Birds

Credits: Birds Caribbean, Charles Skinner x 3, BNT, Alan D. Wilson, Woody Bracey, Sean Breazeal, Xeno Canto, Crossley ID Guides, Wiki, Audubon, Cornell and sundry worthy OK sources…

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (3): LET’S GO GREEN…


Green Moray Eel with Soldierfish (Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba)

FORAYS WITH MORAYS (3): LET’S GO GREEN…

A short while back I posted about SPOTTED MORAYS, which people seem to enjoy. It generated requests for more forays, specifically with green morays. I gotcha – here they are, as promised… All the eels shown below, familiar to the divers who regularly encounter them and given names such as “Judy’ and “Wasabi” (my favourite), were photographed by Scuba expert Melinda Riger, whose skills with a camera are well-known. Let’s go Green…

Like all moray species, Greens like to lurk in convenient hiding places to watch the underwater world – and possible prey – go by. Here are some typical ‘lurking’ shots.Moray Eel, Green, with lunch (eel) emerging from gill ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba Green Moray Eel ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

Green Moray Eel (Judy) ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Moray Eel, Green (Wasabi) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Green Moray Eel ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Green morays also have the unusual breathing apparatus that resemble nasal plugsGreen Moray Eel Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaGreen Moray Eel ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba

Those who recall the spotted moray post and their singular dentition arrangements that included a long sharp tooth sticking down from the upper jaw will no doubt be thinking, “are we going be shown any dental close-ups?” But of course… why would I not?

Note the cluster of teeth in the upper jaw, differing from the spotted morayMoray Eel (Yellow) Judy ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…….Moray Eel, green ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba