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

PHILATELY WILL GET YOU… NICE BAHAMAS WILDLIFE STAMPS


Parrot

WILDLIFE STAMPS OF THE BAHAMAS

with guest expert PHIL LATTERLY

The Bahamas ‘does’ extremely nice stamps, in particular ones featuring the rich and varied wildlife of the islands. The islands spread from the subtropical climates of the north, on a level with Florida, to the near-tropical islands of the south. This ensures plenty of scope for designing pretty sticky bits of paper to stick onto other bits of paper. One of the small pleasures in life, near-lost to the tyranny of the email…

The sets of wildlife stamps are issued by the Bahamas Post Office. I’ll add to this collection piecemeal (including some from my own modest collection). The very latest commemorative issue heads the display.

1. SEA CREATURES

BREEF 20th Anniversary Issue – November 2013IMG_2918

REEF FISHESBahamas Reef Fish StampsBahamas Bonefish Stamp (old-style)Bahamas Marine Life Stamps 2012

2. BIRDS

February 2012: WWF Flamingo Issue

Best seen on Inagua, the island where they breed. Less often found elsewhere, and sadly now only as occasional ‘vagrants’ on Abaco. Flamingo post with wonderful pictures of adults, babies and nests HEREBahamas Wildlife Stamps Flamingos

PARROT POST

Found mainly on Abaco (the resident underground nesting variety) and Inagua (conventional nesters), where they breed. Small groups are now found elsewhere, e.g. Nassau, where there is a local monitoring programme, but I’m not sure that there is evidence of breeding there. Any info welcome… One (of several) lavishly illustrated parrot posts HERE

 Impressive commemorative issues for the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST

OTHER BIRD SPECIES

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Osprey

The KIRTLAND’S WARBLER is one of the rarest birds of the Bahamas, a winter resident that breeds only in a small area of Michigan. The entire population is numbers only a few thousand birds. The number of sightings annually on Abaco is very small – fewer than a dozen, and in some years none at all. Increasing knowledge about their favourite haunts is now improving the recording rate. I know of two seen this year, on the same day… a birder’s lifetime achievement.

Bahamas Stamps Kirtland's Warbler (eBay)

This swallow is endemic to the Bahamas

Found on Abaco only as an occasional visitor.

stock-photo-a-bahamas-stamp-featuring-a-burrowing-owl-on-the-face-10479643 copy

WATERFOWL                Credit as shown

3. ANIMALS

Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Set

Bahamas Wildlife Stamps Sept 1984Bahamas Wildlife Stamp Set - Bat, Hutia, Raccoon, DolphinBahamas Potcake Stamps (First Day Cover)

4 BUTTERFLIES & INSECTSBahamas Butterfly Stamps

Credits: A compendious credit to sundry online sources including Bahamas PO, Bahamas Weekly, eBay and other sales / promotional sources, ads and the like, and unknown sources. I rarely find myself having to use this broad sweep approach: if your pic is here and you are upset, apologies, contact me to express your displeasure &co and I’ll take it down of course. But these are only non-rare small bits of paper; and this is a humble non-profit making info site of limited appeal in a Big Wide World. OK with that?

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

“SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS…” ABACO WILDLIFE APPEALS TO EVERYONE!


“SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS…” Abaco (Cuban) ParrotImage: ©RH

Christmas time. Holidays. Festive season. Yuletide. ġéohol*. Noel. Winterval. However you describe it, there’s a reassuring ritual each year. To many, the familiar religious carols and rites. To all, the cheerful sound of jingling tills. The exchange of presents happily bought and excitedly received. The groaning table weighted with victuals. Light and laughter. Glasses generously filled and refilled.  Sudden growing dizziness and a strange lack of coordination. Wondering what others are saying. Wondering what you are saying. Drowsiness. Overwhelming sleepiness. The passage of time. The groaning hangover as seven West Indian woodpeckers attack your skull with hammer-drills… Time for a soothing image.

BMMRO Dolphin Image copyImage ©BMMRO

Where was I? Oh yes. This is a very good time to draw attention to the various wildlife organisations based on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas. During the year they look after the birds, the marine mammals and so forth that help make Abaco such a very special place to be. I am simply going take the opportunity to post the link to my updated page for ABACO WILDLIFE CHARITIES. Oh. I just have. Well, is there one that appeals to you, I wonder? Just asking… Meanwhile, here’s the music of the heading to get you in the mood


Delphi Xmas + lights* Old English / Anglo-Saxon origin of “Yule”

THREATS TO SEA TURTLES: ABACO, BAHAMAS… IN FACT, EVERYWHERE


DCB GBG Cover Logo dolphin

THREATS TO SEA TURTLES: ABACO, BAHAMAS… IN FACT, EVERYWHERE

The Bahamas has breeding populations of 5 of the world’s 7 sea turtle species - Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Leatherback and Kemp’s Ridley turtles (the other two are Olive Ridley – occasionally found in the Bahamas – and Flatback turtles). All are endangered. There’s no getting away from the fact that Man and Man’s activities are now the primary threats. The IUCN ratings below make for sad reading.

GREEN TURTLE  (Chelonia mydas)

.Photo of turtle swimming towards surface with diver in background

HAWKSBILL TURTLE (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Hunted almost to extinction for their shells

Photo of swimming turtle

LOGGERHEAD TURTLE (Caretta caretta)

A loggerhead sea turtle in an aquarium tank swims overhead.  The underside is visible. Photo of a loggerhead swimming above a reef.

LEATHERBACK TURTLE  (Dermochelys coriacea)

The largest sea turtle

A leatherback sea turtle digging in the sand

KEMP’S RIDLEY TURTLE (Lepidochelys kempii)

The smallest sea turtle

 

A helpful source of information about sea turtles and their protection is the BAHAMAS SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION GROUP Their excellent summary of the multiple threats to these creatures (below) puts the critical situation very well. Anyone who has watched a TV program about sea turtles and their breeding will be familiar with the vulnerability of turtle nests and hatchlings to predation – and that’s before they ever get to the sea. Despite that, all the species managed to flourish until human intervention (direct or indirect) tipped the balance of survival much further against them. So if we lose one or more of these wonderful species, at least we’ll know who to blame.

1. NATURAL THREATS
In nature, sea turtles face a host of life and death obstacles to their survival. Predators such as raccoons, crabs and ants raid eggs and hatchlings still in the nest. Once they emerge, hatchlings make bite-sized meals for birds, crabs and a host of predators in the ocean. After reaching adulthood, sea turtles are relatively immune to predation, except for the occasional shark attack. These natural threats, however, are not the reasons sea turtle populations have plummeted toward extinction. To understand what really threatens sea turtle survival, we must look at the actions of humans.

2. HUMAN-CAUSED THREATS
In many cultures around the world, people still harvest sea turtle eggs for consumption. Most countries forbid the taking of eggs, but enforcement is lax, poaching is rampant, and the eggs can often be found for sale in local markets. In these same areas, adult sea turtles are harvested for their meat. Turtle products, such as jewelry made from hawksbill shells, also create a direct threat to sea turtles. Lack of information about sea turtles leads many Americans to unwittingly support the international trade in these endangered species. Buying and selling turtle products within the U.S. is strictly prohibited by law, but turtle shell jewelry and souvenirs are the most frequent contraband seized by customs officials from tourists returning from the Caribbean. Indirect threats are harder to quantify, but they are likely causing the greatest harm to sea turtle survival.

Illegal turtle shells (IUCN)IUCN: illegal turtle shells

3. COMMERCIAL FISHING
The waters of the Gulf of Mexico and west Atlantic coast are a major habitat for turtles, but are also the main shrimping grounds in the U.S. Each year, thousands of turtles become entangled in fishing nets and drown. Worldwide, shrimp trawling probably accounts for the incidental death of more juvenile and adult sea turtles than any other source. At one time, as many as 55,000 sea turtles were killed each year in shrimp nets in the southeastern United States alone. Today, all U.S. shrimpers are required to put Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their trawl nets. Unfortunately, not all fishermen comply with the law, and sea turtles continue to drown in shrimp nets.

Sea turtle entangled in a ghost net

4. INGESTION OF DEBRIS AND PLASTIC
Thousands of sea turtles die from eating or becoming entangled in non-degradable debris each year, including packing bands, balloons, pellets, bottles, vinyl films, tar balls, and styrofoam. Trash, particularly plastic bags thrown overboard from boats or dumped near beaches and swept out to sea, is eaten by turtles and becomes a deadly meal. Leatherbacks especially, cannot distinguish between floating jellyfish — a main component of their diet — and floating plastic bags (my italics).

One sea turtle’s accumulated ingested plastichttp://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2011/03/sea-turtle-plastic/Credit: http://www.wired.com/wiredscience

5. ARTIFICIAL LIGHTING
Nesting turtles once had no trouble finding a quiet, dark beach on which to nest, but now they must compete with tourists, businesses and coastal residents for use of the beach. U.S. beaches are rapidly being lined with seaside condominiums, houses and hotels. Lights from these developments discourage females from nesting and cause hatchlings to become disoriented and wander inland, where they often die of dehydration or predation.

Florida at night- NASA : ISSS

6. COASTAL ARMORING 
Coastal armoring includes structures such as sea walls, rock revetments and sandbags that are installed in an attempt to protect beachfront property from erosion. These structures often block female turtles from reaching suitable nesting habitat and accelerate erosion down the beach. Armoring is especially problematic along the east coast of Florida, where beach development is occurring in the very places where sea turtles come to nest by the thousands.

ProTec-Godfrey

7. BEACH NOURISHMENT
Beach nourishment consists of pumping, trucking or otherwise depositing sand on a beach to replace what has been lost to erosion. While beach nourishment is often preferable to armoring, it can negatively impact sea turtles if the sand is too compacted for turtles to nest in or if the sand imported is drastically different from native beach sediments, thereby potentially affecting nest-site selection, digging behavior, incubation temperature and the moisture content of nests. If renourishment is allowed to proceed during nesting season, nests can also be buried far beneath the surface or run over by heavy machinery.

Beach restoration WIKI

8. POLLUTION
Pollution can have serious impacts on both sea turtles and the food they eat. New research suggests that a disease now killing many sea turtles (fibropapillomas) may be linked to pollution in the oceans and in nearshore waters. When pollution kills aquatic plant and animal life, it also takes away the food sea turtles eat. Oil spills, urban runoff of chemicals, fertilizers and petroleum all contribute to water pollution.
Although the problems of habitat destruction and exploitation seem almost too big to overcome, there are many things within our control that can be changed. Greater public awareness and support for sea turtle conservation is the first priority. By learning more about sea turtles and the threats they face, you can help by alerting decision-makers when various issues need to be addressed.

“Look on thy works, ye Humans, and despair…”  [Gulf of Mexico]Sea Turtle / Oil Pollution Boston.com / ReutersCredits boston.com / Reuters

FURTHER REFERENCES (click logos)

 Bahamas Sea Turtle Research Logo            BAHAMAS SEA TURTLE RESEARCH

BSTCG logo green sea turtles       BAHAMAS SEA TURTLE CONSERVATION GROUP

Bahamas National Trust Logo                BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST (Factsheets)

seaturtle.org         SEATURTLE.ORG (image library)

Sea Turtle Conservancy http-:www.conserveturtles.org        SEA TURTLE CONSERVANCY

article-1369438-0B529C0E00000578-415_306x220

Credits: BSTCG; Wiki (images / IUCN tables); wire.com / wiredscience; Boston.com; Reuters; NASA; STC

ABACO BIRDWALK WITH THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST – OCTOBER 20th


ABACO BIRDWALK WITH THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST – OCTOBER 20th

This sounds a lot of fun, and I wish I could be taking part. I’ve never been on Abaco in the autumn when the winter migrants start to arrive as the weather cools in their summer breeding grounds. It must be exciting to see the various species gradually reappear after their summer break, presumably with all the young birds born this year that will see Abaco (and the feeders!) for the first time. If any blog-follower goes on the expedition and happens to keeps a birding record, I would love to know which species you have seen . And if anyone gets some good pics, likewise…

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS


SPIDER WASPS  & TARANTULA HAWKS (PEPSIS WASPS)

I recently posted photos of an unknown aggressive-looking INSECT that I found in the coppice on Abaco. I could only get a partial shot of it, and I wondered whether to try to reach it and get a more complete shot. Perhaps I could have stroked its dear little back… or tickled its cute feelers…

I received various ID suggestions, ranging from the entomologically broad hedge-bet “big black beetle” to a more precise “black praying mantis”. I contacted the BNT to see what they thought. I’m glad I did. It turns out that this creature would be the hardest bastard insect on Planet Bastard. It is a SPIDER WASP of the Pompilidae family, almost certainly a TARANTULA HAWK aka PEPSIS WASP. It’s fortunate that I didn’t try to pet it or keep it in a matchbox. Note, for start, the scary eating apparatus… and it’s not nibbling leaves as I had thought, but chopping up a small insect. The leg claws and barbs are for pinning down its prey. You would not believe how unpleasant these little buddies are –  and that’s before we even mention the sting… 

SPIDER WASPS

These wasps (family name Pompilidae) are known in some countries as “horse-killers”. There are many species around the world, with 6 subspecies, one of which being the Tarantula Hawk or Pepsis Wasp – so-called because it hunts tarantulas and uses them in a most ingenious and cruel way… NB The BNT have rightly pointed out that these insects are unaggressive to humans. If you leave them alone, they will spare you. I’ve also read “The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation” Now read on to see if it’s worth provoking one

SCARY CRITTERS & LIVING LARDERS

SPIDER WASPS are ‘Solitary’ insects that feed on ground spiders/ tarantulas by stinging them to paralyse them, then eating them. The females also make use of spiders for breeding purposes. They build a nest in a burrow, find a spider, paralyse it with their sting, drag it to the nest and lay a single egg on its abdomen. Then they seal up the burrow. 

When the egg hatches the larva chews a hole on the spider’s abdomen and enters a living larder. It gradually eat its host as it grows. The spider’s vital organs are left till last, so that the spider stays alive as long as possible until the larva has reached full-size. After several weeks, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates (often over winter). Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, bursts Alien-like from the spider’s abdomen, and tunnels out of the burrow…

Credit: Paul Nylander http://bugman123.com

SPIDER WASPS: MORE FEARFUL FACTS

  • Their hunting improves with experience – the more spiders they eat, the quicker they find, attack & kill them
  • Males use ‘perch territories’ to scan for receptive females from a tall plant or other vantage point, a behaviour known as HILL-TOPPING
  • Adult wasps also feed on a variety of plants for nectar & pollen. They may become intoxicated on fermented fruit, which affects their ability to get around (I think we’ve all been there at some time…)
  • The female Pepsis gets her spider in two main ways: approaching a tarantula causing it to rear up defensively on its legs, thus exposing its abdomen to the sting or
  • She locates a tarantula’s burrow, using her sense of smell. She tricks the spider into emerging by tweaking the web at the burrow’s entrance or ‘intruding’ (see video below)
  • The wasp uses her long stinger to stab her prey. The poison rapidly paralyses the spider. She then drags it to her burrow, lays her egg onto the tarantula’s abdomen, seals the burrow and leaves. Job done
  • The hooked claws and barbs on the wasps’ long legs are weapons for grappling with victims
  • The stinger of a female tarantula hawk can be up to 7 mm (1/3 inch) long – and the sting is among the most painful insect stings in the world (see below)
  • Only the females sting (males may pretend to) because the stinger is linked to the ovipositor (egg-laying organ)
  • You can distinguish females from males by the curled antennae of the female. Mine was therefore female
  • The Pepsis wasp has (unsurprisingly) very few predators, though roadrunners and bullfrogs may tackle them

Here is a hypnotically fascinating 3-minute video of the life-or-death struggle

SPIDER WASP  -v-  TARANTULA 

THE STING

The sting of these wasps is among the most painful of any insect, though the most intense pain lasts on a few minutes. Entomologist Justin Schmidt bravely submitted himself to the stings of various insects and described this pain as “…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.” 

Schmidt produced his SCHMIDT STING PAIN INDEX The pain scale, based on 78 species, runs from 0 to 4, with 4 given for the most intense pain. Spider Wasps of the species Pepsis – i.e. Tarantula Hawks - have a sting rating of 4.0, described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath” Only the bite of the Bullet Ant (not found on Abaco!) is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described aspure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

(Thanks to Erik Carey (BNT), Shelley Cant (BNT) and Dr Paul Deluca for their ID help and interest)

LIGHT RELIEF

1. In 1989, New Mexico chose the Tarantula hawk wasp as the official state insect. The choice seems to have been left to schoolchildren and I’m guessing here (or gender-stereotyping) but I suspect it was the boys’ choice that won…

2. Tarantula Hawk is a “psychedelic progressive metal band” from San Diego, Ca. Their short discography includes their debut Tarantula Hawk (CD/LP, 1998); Burrow (Live CD, 2000, self-released); and Untitled. I’ll just check if… OMG!! you can even get these on iTunes… and (OMG!!!) Am@z@n. The cover of their debut provides the perfect ending for this post, vividly depicting the colour and texture of the swirling fiery pain you could experience (and I don’t really mean from listening to the music…) 

AN ARGUABLY PAINFUL STING

AN ENJOYABLE STING

STOP PRESS 2 or 3 weeks on, I find that this entire post has been translated into Portugese! It can be seen HERE. It’s quite weird to read it, and I am tempted when I have a moment to re-use Google to translate it back into English. The two-way online translation game often leads to amusing results…

ABACO NEWS: ART FOR THE PARKS / BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST DAY


SATURDAY 28 JANUARY 2012 – A DATE FOR THE DIARY

CLICK LOGO!

The images below tell you all you need to know about this excellent festival presented by the BNT in conjunction with the Abaco Beach Resort. From this blog’s point of view, the highlights are:

PRESENTATIONS by Nancy Albury on ‘The Blue Holes of Abaco’; by Ricky ‘Blue’ Jones on Bush Medicines / teas; and by Caroline Stahala on the Breeding & Behaviour of Abaco Parrots

ART The Art. Yes, all of it. Ok?

PRODUCE Something of everything, please. 

OTHER Everything else on offer…

The very best of luck with this event and best wishes for successful fundraising from Rolling Harbour

BAHAMA PARROTS: BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST DOCUMENTARY


BNT ABACO / INAGUA PARROT DOCUMENTARY

In August 2011 the Bahamas National Trust published a documentary about the resident Abaco and Inagua populations of this Cuban Parrot subspecies. It features research scientist Caroline Stahala, and contains plenty of information about these birds, their nesting and breeding habits, and the problems they face from predation. In places, some of the devastation caused by the extensive forest fires in March 2011 is still evident (see images in earlier POST). If you want to know more about these attractive (but noisy) birds, the documentary video below covers a great deal in 8 minutes…