Mark Catesby Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis, Spindalis Zena)

Mark Catesby: Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis, Spindalis zena)


There’s been (yet) another abrupt side-swerve away from a topic I’d intended to post about, resulting from a newspaper article I read over the weekend. This concerns what was gushingly described as “the ultimate coffee table book”, a facsimile of Mark Catesby’s renowned work, The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands.

Catesby (1682 – 1749) was a pioneering English naturalist and artist who published his magnum opus based on a number of expeditions he undertook from 1712 onwards. His was the first ever published account of the flora and fauna of North America, and the 2 volumes (with a supplement) included some 220 colour plates of the creatures and plants of land and sea that he had come across.
Mark Catesby - Angelfish

Mark Catesby – Angelfish

Mark Catesby - Queen Triggerfish

Mark Catesby – Queen Triggerfish

Catesby’s growing fame as a botanist led to his undertaking expeditions on behalf of the Royal Society to collect plants and seeds in Carolina. He widened his researches both in America and to the West Indies, collecting plants and fauna as he went and sending them back to England. Among other discoveries, he was one of the very first people to observe and record the occurrence of bird migration as a twice-yearly phenomenon.

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree (HM QE2)

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree

Eventually, in 1726 Catesby also returned to base and set about writing up his findings and painting what he had seen. He learnt how to etch printing plates, and gradually the illustrations became more sophisticated, starting without backgrounds then including plants with the animals and birds. The whole project took him some 20 years; quite soon after completing it, he died.

Flamingo Head + Gorgonian Coral (HM QE2)

Flamingo Head & Gorgonian Coral

Catesby’s original drawings were bought by King George III for £120 (a very considerable sum in 1768 – my quick attempts to discover how much suggest ± £200,000) and have remained in the Royal Family ever since. This treasure is kept in the Royal Library of Windsor Castle, the property of HM QE2, though it is occasionally exhibited elsewhere. Later facsimiles of the original were produced, of which some 50 survive today.
Mark Catesby - 'Bahama Titmous' (Bananaquit)

Mark Catesby – ‘Bahama Titmous’ (Bananaquit)

Addison Publications has printed a very limited edition facsimile of 60 in 4 lavish volumes, printed one at a time, “to mark the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in the New World”.
The cost per set? A stonking £39,500 ($61,330). Now this may sound a great deal of money for a modern copy of an old book and it undoubtedly is. But here’s the Christie’s Auction catalogue entry for one of the early facsimiles. Mmmmmm.
Mark Catesby - plate 139 Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby – Hawksbill Turtle

“Illuminating natural history is so particularly essential to the perfect understanding of it”                 (Mark Catesby)
Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Delphi afficionados, especially any who have stayed in Room 1, may recognise 3 of the illustrative images I have chosen – the Spindalis, the Bananaquit and the Grassquit. No, I don’t mean the actual species, I mean that Catesby prints of them are tastefully hung on the walls. I can never decide which of the 3 is my favourite…



THE PIONEERS (Wilson, Audubon, et al)  

MR SWAINSON (on his 224th Birthday)


STOP PRESS Thanks to Woody Bracey for his interesting comment. More information about the Catesby Commemorative Trust and the book The Curious Mister Catesby can be found HERE. A slightly curious promo video was also released.

For anyone tempted to look further into the importance of this ground-breaking naturalist, the CCT produced a 50 minute film that is well worth watching if you can spare the time.

Credits:  Sunday Times (article), HM QE2, National Geographic, Catesby Commemorative Trust, sundry open source info-&-pic-mines inc. Wiki, Addison Publs, & my Bank Manager for declining to loan me the purchase price of the new facsimile…



Little Harbour Abaco, Aerial View -Simon Rodehn annotated

Little Harbour Abaco, Aerial View (Simon Rodehn)

There’s relatively little that a casual investigator can discover about the ruined lighthouse at Little Harbour, Abaco. This hurricane-damaged wreck is Abaco’s third and largely unknown light, after the icon on ELBOW REEF and the desolate but romantic HOLE-IN-THE-WALL that stands on the southern tip of Abaco, down 15 miles of dodgy track through the National Park. Two specific sources of information begin our tour of the “Old Lighthouse at Little Harbour.


“LITTLE HARBOUR Date unknown (station established 1889). Inactive. Ruins of a 1-story concrete keeper’s quarters, known locally as the “old lighthouse.” A modern steel framework tower carried an active light until it was blown over by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012; Trabas has Darlene Chisholm’s photo of the toppled light. A photo and a very distant view are available, and Bing has a satellite view. In an aerial view of the harbor, the light is on the peninsula at upper right. Located at the entrance to Little Harbour, about 25 km (15 mi) south of Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco Island. Accessible by a short walk to the end of the peninsula sheltering the harbor. Site open, tower closed. Site manager: unknown. ARLHS BAH-021; Admiralty J4576; NGA 11808.”

The “Old Lighthouse” – Little Harbour, Abaco

Abaco Escape  – Sandy Estabrook’s essential GUIDE TO THE ABACOS

Often overlooked is (or should we say was) the “Old Lighthouse” as it is called. It was established in 1889 at the entrance to of Little Harbour channel, the southern entrance to Abaco Sound. Once it was a manned light, with the lighthouse keeper and his wife being the only inhabitants of Little Harbour. Of course the keepers are long gone and so is most of the house. The light tower was converted to solar in modern times but was dealt a devastating blow by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Access is via a path which starts from the shoreline and winds up the hill through seagrapes and bush. Few people venture up here these days. If there is a big ocean swell running, walk down to the cliff top in front of the lighthouse, where you’ll find a blowhole known as the Dragon. Depending on swell height, it could be roaring, snorting and shooting out clouds of spray. Sandy Estabrook

Photos referenced by Rowlett  – see extract above

Note the steel frame tower on the right, a structure replacing the old light destroyed by Hurricane Floyd in 1999; and itself toppled by Hurricane Sandy in 2012


Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco, Patrick Shyu

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco, Patrick Shyu. The only interior shot I could find. Note the fallen steel tower (2012) (and seen from the outside below)

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco - Patrick Shyu

Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco – Patrick Shyu

Little Harbour lighthouse Abaco - Darlene Chisholm

Little Harbour lighthouse Abaco, post Hurricane Sandy – Darlene Chisholm

Little Harbour Lighthouse Ruins, Abacos - MV Shingebiss

The Old Lighthouse ruins, taken during a cruise (MV Shingebiss)


In the header image, the location of the Light, looking very roughly north, is shown as a grey pimple on the eastern peninsula that forms the Little Harbour bay. There is no other building in this area. Below are some additional aerial maps showing the path to the Light and its relative remoteness. It is not covered in the wonderful book on Bahamas lighthouses by Annie Potts entitled “Last Lights” (2011, Fish House Press). I surmise that this small Light was more of a beacon to pinpoint the location of the entrance to Little Harbour, and perhaps to enable triangulation with the large lights at ELBOW REEF and HOLE-IN-THE-WALL.

Little Harbour Lighthouse 1 jpg copy

Little Harbour Lighthouse 2 jpg

An unusual aerial view of Little Harbour Lighthouse from the north, showing the path to it. You can see the ‘modern steel framework tower’ referred to in the ROWLETT entry above, replacing the original lighthouse tower destroyed by Hurricane Floyd and later toppled by Hurricane Sandy.

Little Harbour Lighthouse

Little Harbour lighthouse

Credits:  Simon Rodehn (LH aerial view – thanks again!), Rowlett’s Lighthouses, Sandy Estabrook / Abaco Escape, Wiki Map, Patrick Shyu, Darlene Chisholm, MV Shingbiss,



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