“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 IN THEIR TRAVELS?

Well on their way south. Danny Sauvageau, who combines monitoring beaches in Florida with being a wonderful bird photographer, 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.com or, better still, upload info / pics to the new FB page I have set up, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH 2015 – 16Piping 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** now you won’t be able to get the wretched tune out of your head. It’s given you ‘excitations’. 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. Plus Bay Soundings. And the Beach Boys…

ADDENDUM AUG 2 A good article about the significance of banding can be found at BAY SOUNDINGS (based around Tampa Bay). It includes contributions from Danny and a useful info box:

Reporting banded birds

Reporting banded birds is one of the most important activities for citizen-scientists, says Wraithmell. “It’s the only way we have to solve the mystery of migration – to learn where they stop and where they winter so we can protect that habitat too.”

Most photographers stumble upon their first banded birds accidentally because they don’t always see the bands until they review their images on a computer screen. After that, they’ll learn to watch for the bands even if they don’t get close enough to see them with their naked eye.

“There’s something very exciting about photographing banded birds, learning where they came from and following their travels if they’ve been seen and reported before,” Sauvageau said.

But capturing an image shouldn’t outweigh allowing the bird to rest or feed in peace, Wraithmell said. “One thing that’s really important is not disturbing the birds, whether they’re nesting or just resting,” she said. If nesting birds are disturbed, they fly off and leave their eggs or babies in broiling sun and defenseless against predators. Wintering birds need to rest and pack on the pounds before they fly back to their summer breeding grounds.

“Some birds, like piping plovers, actually spend more time here than they do nesting,” she said. “Their main job over the winter is eating and resting so they can nest successfully. And breeding is hard work – it takes a lot of energy to make an egg and then to feed and defend a chick until it’s old enough to take care of itself.”

For the scientists who band birds, “it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the sea,” Wraithmell said. “Every resighting is valuable because we learn something new.”

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… 

PINEAPPLES REVISITED: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)


PINEAPPLES REVISITED – A SHORT BUT FRUITY HISTORY

INTRODUCTORY NOTE 

I rarely recycle old posts, though I sometimes rewrite them. Occasionally a past subject returns later as a new hot topic, usually because of some related event or news item. Suddenly I get a flurry of hits for ‘do manatees have toenails?’ or ‘does one good tern deserve another?’. That kind of thing. Right now – indeed for the past 10 days – the current sporting event in London SW19 (i.e. Wimbledon) has by a side-swipe of a mis-hit tennis racket affected the smooth operations at Rolling Harbour. The fruit generally associated most with Wimbledon is of course The Strawberry. Yes, they are now so expensive at the ground that they have to be sold singly. If you want Cream with it, they offer moderate loan terms in return for a charge on your house. A small cardboard box to eat it from is extra, though eating from your hand remains free. For now. But the fruit that is rocking the blog at the moment is the PINEAPPLE. I am suddenly getting lots of ‘search’ hits daily with various combos of the question “why is there a pineapple on top of the Wimbledon Trophy?” So I am rolling out my pineapple post from a couple of years back, slightly modified, which will answer this and many other ananatic questions. 

🍍  🍍  🍍  🍍  🍍

The first image below is of the handsome locally hand-carved pineapple that surmounts the roof of the DELPHI CLUB Abaco. The fruit lost a few leaves in Hurricane Irene, which scored a direct hit on the Club. As posted on the ABACO FACTS page (under RANDOM main menu) “the precise Longitude & Latitude coordinates of the Pineapple [on] the Delphi Club roof are respectively 77.1787834167480  &  26.20450323936187 “. But why is it there? Time for a Short Voyage around the Pineapple…

PINEAPPLE FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

HISTORICAL & SOCIAL CONTEXT

  • Brought back to Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his return from his second voyage
  • Taken on long voyages as a protection against scurvy and because of its long life
  • By the c17 royalty & aristocracy grew them in hot-houses (or rather, their gardeners did). King Charles II tried one, an event so important it was recorded by the Court painter Hendrik Danckerts 
  • By c18 considered a great delicacy and a status symbol of wealth, often the centre-piece of a feast.
  • If you couldn’t afford to buy one, you could rent one and return it afterwards. Someone richer than you would then buy it.
  • Pineapples were grown in pits of fermenting manure. In England Queen Victoria was not amused and soon put an end to that unpleasant nonsense
  • In the c19 pineapples were one of the most significant exports from Abaco
  • The Earl of Dunmore built a huge pineapple folly in Scotland in 1761, which you can stay in (We have. It’s a lot of fun)

     110-1004_IMG

  • On ‘Unter den Linden’ in Berlin,  the cast iron posts round the huge equestrian statue of Frederick the Great are topped by pineapples.

Berlin, Unter den Linden, Reiterstandbild Friedrich II                 Reiterstandbild_-_Friedrich_der_Große Berlin Wikimedia

CULTURAL SYMBOLISM

  • Pineapples symbolise welcome and hospitality, placed at the entrance to villages or plantations. The tradition spread to Europe where they were carved as gateposts; staircase finials; and incorporated into wooden furniture (including bedposts at the Delphi Club)

  • Seafarers put pineapples outside their homes on their return to show that they were back from their travels and ‘at home’ to visitors
  • An expensive fruit to grow & to transport; remained a luxury until the arrival of steamships
  • Their costliness made them status symbols / indicators of wealth and rank. Displaying or serving pineapple showed that guests were honoured. And, coincidentally, that the hosts were loaded.
  • In the 1920s the grandest dinners apparently needed both “a pineapple and Lady Curzon” (I have been asked whether this is Interwar Period code for some sort of disreputable activity… let’s hope the answer is ‘yes’)

           Ornamental Pineapple at Ham House - James Long @ Wikimedia

  • The future Queen Elizabeth was sent 500 cases of canned pineapple as a wedding present from Australia. She asked them the traditional Royal Question “Hev you come far?” Prince Phillip’s reaction was – apart from the word ‘pineapple’ – unprintable
  • In the play Abigail’s Party (Mike Leigh) pineapple chunks on cocktail sticks were used as a plot device to highlight the desperate social ambitions of a hellish hostess trying to impress & outclass her guests
  • A 1930s ad promised that by baking a pineapple pie a wife would make her man “smack his lips in real he-man enjoyment” (NB This may not work so well in the 2010s) 

By Appointment to HM the Queen

ARTS & CRAFTS

  • Used on Wedgwood pottery designs as early as the 1760s; others soon followed suit
  • Became widely used decoratively as a motif for gateposts, weather vanes, door lintels, wallpaper, table linen & curtains, and incorporated into furniture
  • Depicted as curiosities in early botanical engravings (Commelin 1697 Hortus Botanicus)

Commelin - Engraving - Ananas - Hortus Botanicus 1697

  • Featured in still life paintings as a crowning example of opulence (e.g. De Heem, Jan van Os)

                             Josef Schuster

  • Depicted in plant and fruit studies, for example these by Johann Christoph Volckamer, very early c18        
  • Occasionally found in Church stained glass windows (e.g. St Lawrence’s, Jersey)

Églyise_Pârouaîssiale_dé_Saint_Louothains_Jèrri Man Vyi * Wikimedia

  • Featured in music e.g. Pineapple Rag (Scott Joplin); Pineapple Head (Crowded House); Escape – The Piña Colada Song (Rupert Holmes); Pineapple Express (Huey Lewis); Pineapple (Sparks) 
  • Used as a motif on shutters in Marsh Harbour 

SPORT

  • The Men’s Singles Trophy at  Wimbledon is a silver gilt cup with a gilded pineapple on top of the lid. It used to mean “Welcome back, Roger!” Now it stands for the first British male singles win since 1937 (‘Go, Andy!’). [British women have fared rather better in the singles in that time (‘Go, Angela, Ann & Virginia!’)]

fedwin1_71759545_andy_murray_kisses_trophy_paScreen Shot 2015-07-09 at 17.21.12

MOTORING

  • Vauxhall produced the Vauxhall Astra Sport in ‘tasteful’ Pineapple Yellow. For the history of the use of the far more glamorous Bahama Yellow  in motoring history, click HERE

10 TASTY PINEAPPLE CHUNKS

  • The cocktail Afterglow is 1 part grenadine, 4 parts orange juice & 4 parts pineapple juice on ice
  • Piña Colada is rum, coconut milk & crushed pineapple. Omit the rum for a Virgin Colada
  • It is impossible, for chemical reasons, to make jelly with fresh pineapple
  • “Pineapple heat” was once a standard marking on thermometers
  • A pineapple grows as two interlocking helixes (8 one way, 13 the other – each being a Fibonacci number)
  • A pineapple will never become any riper than it was when harvested
  • Workers who cut up pineapples eventually have no fingerprints – a gift fact for crime writers
  • Pineapple stems are being tested for anti-cancer properties
  • Pine Apple, a small Alabama town full of pineapple symbols, was originally named “Friendship” but there turned out to be another town called that, so they changed it
  • Features on the Bahamian 5 cents coin…

  • …and  a $1 stamp

BAHAMAS PINEAPPLE STAMP

Read Jim Kerr’s interesting article in ABACO LIFE on Abaco’s pineapple past HERE

FRANCESCA BEAUMAN 2006 THE PINEAPPLE – KING OF FRUITS If you want to find out more about pineapples, their  history and social significance, you should be able to pick up a copy of this book on Am@z%n, Abe or ALibris for a few dollars “What?” I hear you cry, “you’ve managed a whole page about pineapples without mentioning modern advertising”. Shall I do so now? The man from Del Monte, he says YES

FOUR WAYS TO CUT UP & SERVE A PINEAPPLE

Sources: Own ideas + some magpie-thieving-borrowing from a variety of sources, many of which contain identical info and / or quote from the above book. Hope everyone is comfortable with that… NB Not every fact above is strictly 100% true, so expect to be challenged if you try one out. In particular Prince Phillip is of course naturally docile and gentle-mouthed…

POST SCRIPT The first 21 Fibonacci numbers (just add 2 successive numbers to produce the next) are

F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 F13 F14 F15 F16 F17 F18 F19 F20
0 1 1 2 3 5 8 13 21 34 55 89 144 233 377 610 987 1597 2584 4181 6765

SHEARWATERS ON ABACO: SAD TALES FROM THE SEA


GREAT SHEARWATER Puffinus gravis (Patrick Coin Wiki)

SHEARWATERS ON ABACO: SAD TALES FROM THE SEA

We do not generally do sad or sombre at Rolling Harbour. It’s a beautiful and happy place, and the Delphi Club is a haven of good fellowship and good craic (stemming no doubt from its Irish connections). But I have to report on a sad occurrence on the beach at Delphi and, as it turns out, at many other Abaco locations (and beyond) during June – a notable number of shearwaters being found dying or dead on beaches or else in the sea, their bodies in due course being washed in on the tide.

There are quite a few species of shearwater worldwide, of which 5 are recorded for Abaco. The only permanent breeding resident is the Audubon’s Shearwater, a bird that is quite commonly seen out at sea though not, I imagine, on land. We never managed to obtain a photo of one for “The Birds of Abaco”. I presume there are breeding colonies on Abaco, but not that I have heard about.

Shearwater Checklist, Abaco

As the checklist above shows, three of the other shearwaters are rare transients. These birds fly long migration routes over the ocean and so the casual birder is in practice unlikely to encounter one, let alone get a photograph. The Manx can be ignored as an aberration – the V5 means that one or two vagrant individuals have been recorded since (say) 1950. Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis - Patrick Coin Wiki

My first inkling that something unusual was occurring came a week ago from a FB post by Melissa Maura, whose wonderful parrot and flamingo photos feature elsewhere in these pages. She said …on my rugged Abaco ocean beach last week, were many dead magnificent seabirds – greater shearwaters (about 5) and a couple of Frigate birds… They didn’t appear to wash in on the waves, but appeared to have perished perhaps from exhaustion on the beach”.  Various later comments suggested that this phenomenon had been noted periodically in the past, the last time 4 or 5 years ago. 

Great Shearwater (dec'), Abaco (Melissa Maura)

This was followed a couple of days later by evidence from well-known birding maestro Woody Bracey that living great shearwaters were in Abaco waters, perhaps confirming that they are in mid-migration at the moment. The one in #2 was “caught” 3 miles off Great Guana Cay.

Great Shearwater Abaco (Woody Bracey)Great Shearwater, Abaco boated (Woody Bracey)

Then a couple of days ago Jane Mantle emailed me with photos of some dead birds on the beach at Delphi saying that half- dead birds are washing up on the beach ‘only for the vultures to finish off’.  We must have over 20 with more to come”. I circulated these to the ‘usual suspects’ for ID and comment.

Great Shearwater, Abaco (dec'd) (Jane Mantle)Great Shearwater, Abaco (dec'd) (Jane Mantle)

I also posted the photos on my RH FB to see if others had seen anything similar. Many thanks to all those who ‘liked’, shared or commented on the post. Here is a summary of the responses, from which a pretty clear picture emerges of widespread recent shearwater deaths on Abaco mainland and Cays.

  • Delphi Club Beach – 20 plus
  • Bahama Palm Shores – ‘many many’ dead birds washed up on the shore
  • Casuarina Beach – 1
  • Cherokee (Watching Bay) – 3 or 4
  • Cherokee (Winding Bay) – 4
  • Marsh Harbour area – about 5
  • Great Guana Cay, southern end   – 1 (possibly a gull)
  • Tilloo Cay – 13 at least on Junk Beach, more than ever seen (see photos below)
  • Elbow Cay – 2 + 1 Atlantic side beach near Abaco Inn
  • Elbow Cay – 2, North End
  • Green Turtle Cay beach – 2
  • Green Turtle Cay, offshore – “a lot in the water”
  • Man-o-War Cay – 1 by the roadside
  • Ocean 20m from HT Lighthouse – 2 in the sea

also Exuma Sound (5 birds), Briland Beach Harbour Island (“some”) and Shroud Cay (gull?”)

SIGHTINGS MAP, ABACO AS AT 09.00 JUNE 25 (2X click to enlarge)
Shearwater Map, Abaco

Shearwaters at Tilloo Cay (Janie Thompson)

Great Shearwater (dec'd) Tilloo Cay Abaco988563_780040245445527_87776362163085216_n10429826_780040222112196_5624095942981629125_n

Shearwaters on Elbow Cay (Rudolf Verspoor)

11406243_10153041925951245_9107566668485466585_o 11537917_10153041926991245_4040884745830449528_o

WHAT SORT OF SHEARWATERS ARE THESE?

In the main it looks and sounds as though these are migrating great shearwaters. Woody Bracey has identified several dead birds as ‘greats’ from photos, and one as an alive Cory’s shearwater swimming in the sea off the Delphi Beach. ID is not easy, and a few of the birds found may be gulls. It’s possible that there are some Audubon’s shearwaters among the stricken birds, although since they are resident to Abaco that would go against the theory of an exhausted migratory species that has been blown of course en masse.

Great Shearwater Puffinus gravis (JJ Harrison Wiki)

WHAT DO THE EXPERTS THINK?

There are a few obvious contenders for the solution to the riddle of the shearwaters, ranging from the frontrunner migration exhaustion to disease and trash ingestion. The evidence of mass deaths over a wide geographical area during a short time probably rules out trash ingestion – although I’m sure the poor creatures must have plenty of plastic bits inside them. Mass disease striking suddenly over one area is seems unlikely. Once those two possibilities are ruled out, the primary cause, covering most instances of the sad and upsetting phenomenon, becomes clearer.

Lynn Gape of BNT posted the view of William Mackin, a seabird biologist who looked at some of the photos and wrote “The five birds look like greater shearwaters. They breed at Gough Island in the South Atlantic. The young begin life by flying 10000 miles to Newfoundland in the North Atlantic. Some do not make it. They wash up on eastern US and Bahamian beaches. It is sad. We should monitor the numbers. The frequency is variable but possibly increasing.”

Tony White, the omniscient Recorder of Bahamas Birds and compiler of the comprehensive and authoritative checklist for the area, writes: 

“The dead birds on the beach (and in the water) is a phenomenon that happens every five to ten years. According to the late Dave Lee these are young Great Shearwaters migrating from their natal home in the South Atlantic to their feeding grounds off the US and Canada, Combination of poor food supply and wind conditions in the doldrums lead to their expending all their energy and expiring. It is a normal event for this species and has been recorded many times The Great Shearwater population appears to weather the bad years and do well in the good years. Relevant articles are: Lee, D.S. 2009. Mass die-offs of Greater Shearwater in the Western North Atlantic: Effects of weather patterns on mortality of a trans-equatorial migrant. Chat 73(2):37; Seabird Ecological Assessment Network. 2007. Greater Shearwater Die-off in the Atlantic: June-July 2007. Volunteer Newsletter 3(2):2; and Watson, George. 1970. A Shearwater Mortality on the Atlantic Coast.  Atlantic Naturalist 25(2):75-80.

Woody Bracey has now left an informative and perceptive comment: “It’s amazing how far(10,000 miles) these young birds have to travel to their feeding grounds so soon after being fledged. Breeding colonies are on isolated subantarctic islands of the southern hemisphere. Breeding begins in October. Incubation of the single egg lasts 55 days and it is another 105 days until the chick is ready to fly. Each loss of a bird represents much time and effort of a pair to produce a single chick which then has to fly the gauntlet through the windless, often foodless doldrums to reach its northern feeding grounds. So many hazards, so few birds! It’s sad to witness these die-offs but the species still survives. Global warming cannot be helping this species on its journey to the colder, nutrient rich more northern briny destinatioin. Lets stop setting our dumps and forests on fire here in the Abacos. Eventually it will not only affect the Great Shearwaters but us as well”.

I should add that it is reassuring to be able to confirm that, at least at present, the great shearwater is IUCN-listed “Least Concern”

Status_iucn3.1_LC.svg

Great Shearwater in flight (Hardaker)

Tony has asked for all available information Bahamas-wide: “It would be very useful if someone could collect some hard data on the die-off, e.g. when was it first noted and how many birds are found along a given stretch of beach? Check for other species and take a few wings as samples of the desiccated birds. In past events the number of dead birds was much greater on Crooked and Acklin Islands than Abaco. Eleuthera too should be checked if possible”.

Lynn has also asked “Please photograph and count birds found on your beaches and send images and the number counted to me at lgape@bnt.bs. We will send on to William Mackin and Tony White who are keeping records of these occurrences The image with this post is a Greater Shearwater in flight…” (see above, as we would all like to think of these magnificent birds)

Or by all means contact me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com and I’ll pass on any info

STOP PRESS An update to this post written the following week, detailing new sightings and reporting the passing of a sad fortnight of shearwater fatalities in the Bahamas, can be found HERE

A happier great shearwater image to leave you with…
Great Shearwater (Dick Daniels, Wiki)
Credits and thanks to Woody Bracey, Melissa Maura, Lynn Gape, Jane Mantle, William Mackin, Patrick Coin, J J Harrison, Dick Daniels, Norvell Slezycki, Lory Kenyon, Selah Vie, Lindsey Delaphine McCoy, Turtle Cove Tilloo, Janie Thompson, Rudolf Verspoor, Laurie Schreiner, Caroline Woodson Sawyer, Steph Russell, Ashley L. Albury, Dwayne Wallas, Sully Vincent T Sullivan, Ben Albury, Abaco Bulletin, Carol Rivard Roberts, Jason McIntosh, Dale Sawyer, Barbara Trimmer, Dominique Allen, Jessica Aitken and Juana Rudzki, with apologies to anyone else who has slipped through the net…

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY


Kildeer, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

KILLDEER ON ABACO? IT DOESN’T, BUT ACE NAME ANYWAY

The KILLDEER Charadrius vociferus is a fairly common winter resident plover on Abaco. They can often be found on the Delphi beach, and the lovely beach at Casuarina is another place to spot them. They can easily be distinguished from other plover species, being the only ones with two black frontal bands – see above and below. The lower picture, you’ll be relieved to hear, is not the fabled ‘legless killdeer’, but is simply having a little rest on a nice warm wall.

Killdeer, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The killdeer’s name is a bit of a puzzle, frankly. The Latin term Charadrius vociferus basically means “shouty plover”, but it’s a long way from that to “killdeer”. This is another one of those bird names that are allegedly onomatopoeic – and thankfully it has nothing whatsoever to do with savage behaviour involving Bambi and his ilk (or elk, even). Supposedly the killdeer call is “Kill…Deer”, in the same way as the bobwhite calls an interrogative “Bob…White?”. 

Killdeer - Harrold & Wilson Ponds, NP (Rick Lowe) copy

Consulting some random authorities reveals divergence of opinion on the issue, with definite bet-hedging between ‘kill-dee’ variations and ‘dee dee dees’. Except for Messrs Flieg & Sanders who opine (rudely) ‘the shrill, loud, monotonous call resembles its name’. Yet while I completely get the ‘Bob…White?’ thing, I’m not so sure with the killdeer. Were I a little killdeer, it’s a name I’d like to have anyway. Respect! But what do these sound like to you?

or this

Guillermo Funes Xeno Canto

or this

Peter Boesman Xeno CantoKIlldeer (Danny Sauvageau)

I’ve mentioned the distinctive double black breast-bands that distinguish the killdeer from its brother plovers. These can be seen at quite a distance, as this shot on the Delphi beach by Mrs RH shows (the tracks are from Smithy’s seaweed-clearing tractor).

Killdeer SS edits

The babies are, like all plover chicks, totes irresistibz munchkinsKilldeer hatchling (NTox)Killdeer FB

And like other plovers, a killdeer will defend its nest and young with a broken wing display to distract predators, lurching pathetically across the sand, moving ever further away from the nest. 

I think we can safely conclude that, while the bird doesn’t quite live up to the cervidae-cidal tendencies suggested by its name, nor even sound particularly as though it is saying “killdeer”, it is a very attractive plover to have around whatever the heck its call may resemble.Killdeer, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Photo credits: Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Rick Lowe, Danny Sauvageau, Mrs RH, NTox, Very Recent FB & I’ll track down the source if it kills me**, Erik Gauger

** Got it now: The very excellent Mike Bizeau, whose on his wonderful NATUREHASNOBOSS website posts a single daily image. Many are birds, some are landscapes, some are other things that have caught his eye. I get a daily email, and am invariably impressed by the quality of the images…

ENDANGERED SPECIES DAY: ONE LITTLE REASON WHY IT MATTERS…


Piping Plover Chick ©Melissa Groo PhotographyI had been going to post a selection of bird photos to mark Endangered Species Day today. I’d begun to plan the details – the birds to use, the captions for each and so on. Then I saw one photograph that is so charming and yet so poignant that I realised that adding further images would be superfluous. This tiny piping plover chick is a potent symbol of the vulnerability of all threatened species.

This shot was taken by award-winning and renowned wildlife photographer Melissa Groo. If you want to see the most wonderful and varied wildlife photography that you could ever imagine, please go to Melissa’s website and prepare to be amazed. You will find it HERE

I have posted several times about the endangered piping plovers, many of which overwinter in the northern Bahamas generally, Abaco particularly, and the Delphi Club beach specifically. There are believed to be fewer than 8000 individual birds on earth, and their little world of the shoreline is threatened at both ends of their migration, as well as at their rest ‘stopovers’ en route in either direction. Conservation programs at each end of the range are proving effective at preserving the plovers’ habitat, and the population does seem to have increased slightly. Each chick protected represents a small triumph for conservation.

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Photo credit: Melissa Groo, with thanks for the inspiration! “Less is more…”; Conserve Wildlife Foundation of NJ for their partnership conservation work with PIPL on Abaco and in the Bahamas; the originator – ?Great Lakes Piping Plover Project –  of the neat small logo…

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PLOVER LOVER? MEET SOME CUTE CHICKS ON ABACO


Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

PLOVER LOVER? MEET SOME CUTE CHICKS ON ABACO

(*Serious Voice*) “The Wilson’s Plover is the only permanent resident plover found on Abaco, the other species being the winter resident Black-bellied Plover, Semipalmated Plover, Piping Plover and Killdeer; and the rare transient American Golden Plover. The nidification of the Wilson’s Plover is by common consent among naturalists the most…”

But let’s not get carried away with all that pompous ornithological stuff. There are baby plovers to be considered. Each one exudz adorbz and absorbz admirz. Most of the photos below were taken on the beach at Delphi. Ready? Let’s meet some chicks… But you can’t have them without first having the eggs, can you?

Wilson's Plover nest, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Clare Latimer)Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The Wilson’s Plovers at Delphi generally nest at the north end of the beach, up towards the reef. It is secluded, has good sight-lines and is bordered by pines. On the approach of a predator or human (in this case, me), the tiny chicks are sent scuttling to safety at the back of the beach while the parents prepare to tough it out if need be…Wilson's Plover Chicks Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

“You ain’t seen me, right?”Wilson's Plover Chick, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

“I know we are caught in the open, but if we stand really still, you can’t see us, right?”Wilson's Plover Chicks x 2, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

One of the most fascinating aspects of bird behaviour to watch is the so-called ‘broken-wing’ display put on by plover parent(s) to distract a predator away from a nest or scrape, and the eggs or chicks in it. Kildeer and black-necked stilts are among other species that do this performance. It goes like something like this: 

“Oh! OW! I am helpless. Please don’t attack me, Apex Predator, for I am but a vulnerable plover…”Wilson's Plover, Delphi, Abaco -  broken wing display (Clare Latimer)

“But kindly follow me as I flap pathetically (moving away from my nest). I can’t fly, you know…”Wilson's Plover, Delphi, Abaco -  broken wing display (Clare Latimer)

Camouflage also plays a part in the protection of these little creatures. This chick is on the rocks at the north end of the Delphi beach, the bit where you begin to wish you’d worn shoes because the rock is so sharp… From 10 feet away, you might well miss seeing the chick completely.Wilson's Plover chick. Delphi.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

This is one of my favourite shots, also at Delphi, taken by Sandy WalkerWilson's Plover & Chick, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

Quite a while ago, I wrote about a Wilson’s Plover family that had made their scrape at Nettie’s Point, the place where the bonefishing skiffs are launched. They chose their homemaking site right where the trucks and trailers turn. Big mistake you might think. But the kind guides built a small stockade of branches round the scrape so that it could clearly be seen and avoided. After that, Mrs WP settled down happily and Mr WP stood guard whenever anyone was around…

The protective stockade in place. Mrs Plover in place. All’s well with the worldNettie's Point, Abaco - Proected Wison's Plover Nest (Keith Salvesen)Nettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest (Keith Salvesen)

Soon after, two chicks hatched, were reared by both parents, and in due course fledged safelyWilson's Plover.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyWilson's Plover + chicks 2.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley

Photo Credits: Clare Latimer (2, 7, 8); Tom Sheley (1, 3, 9, 13, 14); Sandy Walker (10); RH (the rest)