A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


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A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

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Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1′ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb’; ‘bloody good’; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

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RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

TOP-FIVE CUTE? A BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER ON ABACO


TOP-FIVE CUTE? A BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHER ON ABACO

There are plenty of cute little birds on Abaco, as almost anywhere else. The BGG would definitely be in my top 10, and probably shouldering its tiny way into the top 5. This one was in the coppice 20 yards from the Delphi Club. I made some of those irritating (to other humans) ‘pishing’ sounds and, gratifyingly, it popped into sight. Then it started singing.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1

If the colouring / name coincidence doesn’t help with ID, look for the characteristic full white eye-rings. Adults have a dark Frida Kahlo ‘monobrow’, visible in these pictures. They also have a tendency to cock the tail when perching. If you are lucky, you may see a BGG ‘hawking’ for small insects, fluttering off a branch to make the catch and returning to its perch to eat it.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 2 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 3

The image below shows the same bird having flown a short distance. I wanted a cocked tail shot, but as I pressed the (what is it? button? knob? shutter? trigger?) pressy thing, the bird started the preliminaries for flying off. The top 3 photos are exactly as taken, with no ‘work’ done bar cropping. The one below had a bit of a sharpen. Not a good photo, but it shows the stance. Then, having seen a cocked tail, I returned to immerse myself in a cocktail – a ‘Delphi Punch’ is a knockout drink!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 4

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO – THE GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE


DCB for Vista

ROLLING HARBOUR, ABACO – THE GEOGRAPHICAL FEATURE

Rolling Harbour, location of the Delphi Club, is a mile-long curving sandy bay on the east side of South Abaco, half an hour’s drive south of Marsh Harbour. It is marked on a handful of old maps and a couple of more recent ones. Other than that, it keeps itself pretty much to itself. Here’s a 30-second, 180º panoramic movie from the beach. Blue skies. Blue water. Turquoise water. White sand. 4250 miles from where I am right now…

Abaco Map showing Rolling HabourAbaco Map showing Rolling Habour ('The Johnson Map')

 

 

ADMIRABLE ADMIRAL BOUGAINVILLE & HIS EPONYMOUS FLOWERS ON ABACO


Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 5

ADMIRABLE ADMIRAL BOUGAINVILLE & HIS EPONYMOUS FLOWERS ON ABACO

By the second half of the c18th, no respectable nautical expedition was complete without at least one naturalist or geologist on board. Within a few decades, that intentionally sweeping generalisation would include Charles Darwin himself. Louis Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729 – 1811) was a French admiral and explorer, and a contemporary of Captain James Cook. However the well-known ornamental vine  to which Bougainville lent his name might more properly be called Commerconia… or indeed an even more obscure name. Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 1

When Bougainville set off on a voyage of circumnavigation in the 1760s, he took with him a botanist, Philibert Commerçon. He was the first European to examine and ‘write up’ these plants, his findings being published in France in 1789. One attractive theory is that the first European actually to observe these plants was a woman called Jeanne Baré who was Commerçon’s assistant, and indeed his lover. He is said to have sneaked her on board, despite regulations, disguised as a man. If this is right, this would make Jeanne Baré the first woman (let alone cross-dressing woman) to circumnavigate the globe. And perhaps make her entitled to be immortalised by having the plant ‘Bareia’ named after her. But I guess Admirals had more clout in plant-naming circles than female stowaways – or indeed botanists on board their ships.Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 3 Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 4

As first printed in 1789, the plant was spelled ‘Buginvillæa’, an unexplained variation from the Admiral’s true name. The ‘correct’ spelling for this plant did not finally settle down until the 1930s, when a botanical consensus was reached. Nonetheless, many variations still persist (most usually with the addition of an e after the n). I myself spell it any-old-how and let the spell-checker take care of it…Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 2 Bougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas 7

STOP PRESS Further research suggests that the name of the plant was ‘gifted’ by Commerçon to the Admiral, a self-effacing tribute or possibly a rampant piece of sycophancy – or (my own theory) to avoid being keelhauled when his ‘valet’s’ gender was apparently unmasked by the ship’s surgeon. In what precise circumstances, one longs to know…

Bougainevillea 2, Abaco Bougainevillea 1, Abaco

Credits: Delphi plants courtesy of Willie the Gardener; photos RH; text-assists by ‘Magpie-Pickings’ 

IDENTITY CRISIS ON ABACO:WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS OR HUMMINGBIRDS?


800px-West_Indian_Woodpecker_(Melanerpes_superciliaris)IDENTITY CRISIS ON ABACO:WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS OR HUMMINGBIRDS?

The hummingbirds round here – Cuban Emeralds and occasional Bahama Woodstars – have feeders full of sugar water to keep them sweet. These are also enjoyed by other birds with suitable beaks or tongues able to get to the liquid through tiny holes.  Bananaquits, for example. Now the resident woodpeckers have got in on the act. Our arrival at Delphi coincides with the start of insistent tapping noises from inside the 2 nesting boxes that were put up to divert the woodpeckers from wrecking the wooden roof eaves. They are carrying out annual routine maintenance, putting up new bookshelves etc before settling down to produce their first brood of the year. And they have now discovered how to get a sugar-rush to keep up their energies. 

TRYING TO INSERT THE BEAK IS NOT A GOOD METHODWest Indian Woodpecker Abaco 4West Indian Woodpecker Abaco 2

USING A LONG TONGUE IS IDEALWest Indian Woodpecker Abaco 5West Indian Woodpecker Abaco 1

MEANWHILE THE FEMALE HAS TO WAIT FOR HER TURN…West Indian Woodpecker Abaco 3

“I MUST FLY”: GONE TO ABACO. BACK SOMETIME.


“I MUST FLY”: GONE TO ABACO. BACK SOMETIME.

UPDATES AS & WHEN

BLUE-GRAY GNATCATCHERBlue-gray Gnatcatcher Delphi Club Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

HIS ‘N’ HERS RODS ON THE BEACH AT DELPHIOn the beach... Delphi Club, Abaco

ZEBRA HELICONIAN BUTTERFLYZebra Heliconian Abaco Charlie Skinner

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish © Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

REFRESHMENT OF CHOICE…Kalik by Kaitlyn Blair (F:B)Relax Notice, Lubbers CayShark Cartoon

Photos: Tom Sheley, RH, Charlie Skinner, Melinda, Kaitlyn Blair on FB, RH

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” HAS LANDED…


JACKET GRAB JPG

WHAT HAS THE GESTATION PERIOD OF A WALRUS (16 MONTHS) AND WEIGHS THE SAME AS A PAIR OF FULLY GROWN PINEAPPLES (2 KILOS)?

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

A unique bird book is  been published and has arrived on Abaco today. Printed in Italy at the end of January, it has made its way from Florence via Bologna, Leipzig, Brussels, Cincinnati, Miami and Nassau. Having spent an unexpectedly long sojourn in Nassau,  2 pallets of books are now safely at the Delphi Club… at last!Cuban Pewee on Abaco

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. It is available for sale now from the Delphi Club in a limited edition of 500.  The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or trails of seed were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or  even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, have contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • Complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication
  • Specially devised codes indicating when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern_ACH3672 copy

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing

Smooth-billed Ani pair GT

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book will be presented to every school on Abaco

Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well. What are the chances?

cuban-emerald-delphi-abaco-3

The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Tel: +1-242-366-2222
General Manager – Sandy Walker: +1-242-577-1698
delphi.bahamas@gmail.com

American Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2Images by Tom Sheley,  Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, Tony Hepburn, RH

ALL THINGS BRIGHT… CHEERFUL GARDEN BIRDS AT DELPHI, ABACO


ALL THINGS BRIGHT… CHEERFUL GARDEN BIRDS AT DELPHI, ABACO

It’s not necessary to prowl around the coppice or lurk in the pine forest to see beautiful birds. They are on the doorstep, sometimes literally. Especially if there are full seed feeders and hummingbird feeders filled with sugar water for the Cuban Emeralds, Bahama Woodstars and other birds with pointy beaks (Bananaquits, for example). Here are are a few from the gardens immediately around the Delphi Club.

PAINTED BUNTINGS (f & m)DSC_0204 copy - Version 2

PAINTED BUNTING (m) WITH BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS (m & f)Painted Bunting SW - V2 jpg

PAINTED BUNTING (f)DSC_0168 copy

WESTERN SPINDALIS (m)Western Spindalis edit DSC_0098

THICK-BILLED VIREO (m)TBV edit

This is a TBV recording made with my iPhone.


For details how to record birds (or indeed animals. Or people) with a smart phone and embed the results as an mp3, CLICK HERE 

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (m)Cuban Emerald DSC_0095

A PAIR OF CAPE MAY WARBLERS

These little birds are autumn / winter visitors, though I have seen one at Delphi in June – it must have like it there and decided to stay on. Strangely, though originally named for one found on Cape May in the c19, there wasn’t another one recorded there for another 100 years…

CMW 33 copy 2CMW 2 copy 2

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK (m)Rose-breasted Grosbeak

INDIGO BUNTING (m)Indigo Bunting

BANANAQUIT (m)DSC_0078

THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACOThe Delphi Club, Abaco, BahamasCredits: Mainly Sandy Walker; a couple from Peter Mantle; DCB by RH

ABACO: A SANDY ISLAND (SANDY BEACHES, A SANDY POINT & A SANDY WALKER)


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ABACO: A SANDY ISLAND (SANDY BEACHES, A SANDY POINT AND A SANDY WALKER)

This post features some great Abaco bird photos taken by Sandy Walker, a man familiar to anyone connected with the Delphi Club in any capacity at all, and well-known far and wide from Marsh Harbour to Ireland. Possibly notorious in some places… Sandy doesn’t talk about his photography much, though he has plenty to say on most topics. Here are a few of his photos taken in the last 6 months or so, and deserving a wider audience. The header image, from the Delphi garden, shows a Bananaquit in characteristic feeding mode.

CUBAN PEWEES

A great picture of feeding time, with the huge chick already seeming to have outgrown the parent – apart from its rather stumpy tailCuban Pewee - FV

CLAPPER RAIL

These shy  birds are reclusive by nature and relatively hard to photograph. They tend to lurk in the undergrowth or half-hidden on water margins. If they are caught in the open, they tend to run in a somewhat cartoonish sort of way. This one was having a good dig in the mud for food.Clapper Rail 3-2

WILLET

Large birds of the shoreline and mangrove swamps, and classed with sandpipers. In flight, they have eye-catching wing stripes that Sandy has captured with a bit of camera sharp-shooting. You can see more Willets HEREWillet 2 Willet in Flight 2

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWK

I was with Sandy when he took this photo during an amazing early evening feeding display of these birds. A hundred or more were swooping and jinking, making the most of an evening fly hatch. Sometimes they flew very close to our heads, make a whirring sound as they passed. Their speed and jagging flight made them very hard to take. I hardly got one in my viewfinder at all, but Sandy is an excellent shot of a different sort, so I guess aiming isn’t a problem for him…Antillean Nighthawk SW copy

SNOWY EGRET

I love these handsome birds, distinguishable from all other white herons and egrets (in some cases as white morphs) by their astonishing bright yellow feet. These are so vivid that they are often  clearly visible when a snowy egret is standing in the water. This one was taken by the jetty at a local pond, a wonderful and secluded place to see water birds of many varieties, including rarities. Snowy 14 a

All images (except this one): Sandy Walker, with thanksSandy Walker on Skiff

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON THE BEACH IN ABACO


 Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 14

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON THE BEACH IN ABACO

Ruddy Turnstones Arenaria interpres are well-known shore birds around the world. They used to be classified as plovers, but are now counted with sanderling. Fortunately they are distinctive enough not to be confusable with the many other species of shore bird with which they mix.Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 13

Their foraging methods are classified into 6 broad categories, though I imagine that if peckish, they may opt for all of these in the one feeding session.

  • Routing — rootling through piles of seaweed by flicking, ‘bulldozing’, and pecking it to expose small crustaceans or gastropod molluscs hidden underneath.
  • Turning stones — living up to its name name, flicking stones with its bill to uncover hidden snaily and shrimpy creatures.
  • Digging —  using small flicks of the bill to make holes in sand or mud and then gobbling up the prey revealed.
  • Probing — inserting the bill right into the ground to get at concealed gastropods.
  • Hammering — cracking open shells using the bill as a hammer, then winkling out the occupant. 
  • Surface pecking — short, shallow pecks to get at prey just below the surface of the sand.

Between them,  these turnstones seem to be using methods 1, 3, 4 and 6Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 2

This female bird has clearly dug down in the sand to the length of its billRuddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 4

This male is digging deep…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 1

When they are not actively feeding, turnstones enjoy group preening sessionsRuddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 9

They are also very good at just standing around having a companionable chat…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 6

…or a post-prandial snooze…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 12

…or just enjoying the scenery in groups…Ruddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 11

…or simply having a peaceful paddleRuddy Turnstones at Delphi, Abaco 16All photos by RH on the Delphi Club beach (where I’ve never seen one actually turn a stone)

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: FESTIVE CREATURES OF THE CORAL REEF


File:Spirobrancheus giganteus.jpg

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS Spirobranchus giganteus

“PROBABLY THE MOST CHEERILY FESTIVE WORMS IN THE WORLD…”
File:Christmas Tree worms.jpgChristmas Tree Worms ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaFile:Spirobranchus giganteus (assorted Christmas tree worms).jpgFile:Spirobranchus giganteus (Red and white christmas tree worm).jpgFile:Christmas tree worm (Spirobranchus giganteus).jpg      File:Reef0232.jpgFile:ChristmasTreeWorm-SpirobranchusGiganteus.jpgFile:Spirobranchus giganteus at Gili Lawa Laut.JPG

DCB Xmas Credits: Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba, Wiki-Reef & RH

A GHOST CRAB’S DAY AT THE SEASIDE AT DELPHI, ABACO


Crab, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco

A GHOST CRAB’S DAY AT THE SEASIDE AT DELPHI, ABACO

Crabby the Crab lived amongst the greenery at the very back of the Delphi Club BeachGhost Crab Delphi Beach 1

It was a very beautiful beach indeed. Lucky Crabby!Delphi Beach + Shell

One day Crabby decided to go down to the sea for a swimGhost Crab Delphi Beach 2

He scuttled across the sand towards the sound of the wavesGhost Crab Delphi Beach 3

He passed the burrow of his friend Sandy. Sandy was very busy tidying his house.Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 4

“Would you like to come for a paddle?” asked Crabby. “No thanks”, said Sandy, “I’m busy today”Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 5

So Crabby carried on towards the water’s edge. He got closer, to where the sand was wet…Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 6

…and closer, to where the water tickled his toes…Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 7

…and closer, to where the tide ripples reached.  Crabby waved his claws with excitementGhost Crab Delphi Beach 8

Finally, he was paddling in the warm water. It was just perfect. Whoops! Don’t fall in, Crabby!Ghost Crab Delphi Beach 9

Very soon Crabby was in the water, right up to his eyes. What a beautiful day for a swim!Ghost Crab in surf.Delphi Club.Abaco bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy

See ‘Crab Run: The Movie’, starring Crabby the Crab

CREDITS: header & beach, RH; last image, Tom Sheley; the rest, Charlie Skinner. DEBITS: pre-Christmas nauseatingly anthropomorphic tomfoolery and video – blame me. No crabs were harmed or even mildly embarrassed during this photoshoot.

SCRAPES, CHICKS & BROKEN WINGS: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (3)


Wilson's Plover Delphi BeachSCRAPES, CHICKS & BROKEN WINGS: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (3)

The male plover above is keeping watch from a rocky vantage point over an area at the north end of the beach at Delphi. And with good reason. It’s the summer breeding season, and on the sand are some nests. One of them is his.

This is a ‘scrape’ – not the carefully constructed nest that most birds make, but a shore bird’s collection of sticks and twigs – sometimes stones or shells – clumped together on the sand to provide a comfortable place for the mother to sit until the eggs have hatched.Wilson's Plover Scrape CL JPG

Though tiny at first, the chicks soon become independent enough to explore their surroundingsWilson's Plover Chick, Delphi Beach, Abaco

Usually, there will be a pair of chicks, maybe more. The two in the photo below have scuttled to the back of the beach for safety because the adults thought I was getting a bit close, and sent them to hide in the pine needlesWilson's Plover Chicks Delphi Beach

When a nest is threatened by a predator, Wilson’s plovers have a defensive technique that is remarkable to watch. Other shore birds, for example Killdeer, resort to this method as well. A parent will flutter about pathetically on the sand, apparently with one or both wings broken, attracting the predator by its faked vulnerability. The plover will gradually draw the threat away from the nest area, protecting the eggs or allowing chicks to make themselves scarce. Here are some examples of the ‘broken wing display’, all photographed on the beach at Delphi. The first 2 images show a female; the third, a male.Wilson's Plover - broken wing display CL1 Wilson's Plover - broken wing display CL4 Wilson's Plover - broken wing display CL6

Athough the little chicks are vulnerable, they grow quicklyWilson's Plover Chicks x 2 RH Delphi

Before very long, they are able to get onto the same rocky vantage point as their parents to practise surveying the scene. Next summer, they will be keeping watch over nests and chicks of their own.Wilson's Plover chick.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley JPG

The previous posts in the series are WILSON’S PLOVERS (1) showing the adults;  and WILSON’S PLOVERS (2) that shows how plovers nesting on the shore at Nettie’s Point were protected from human activity in the boat-launching area.

“I’m off now. See you next year”Wilson's Plover Delphi Beach AbacoCredits: scrape & broken wing display, Clare Latimer; last (and best) chick image, Tom Sheley; the rest, RH

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2) GULF FRITILLARIES


BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (2) GULF FRITILLARIES

The GULF FRITILLARY Agraulis vanillae is a so-called ‘longwing’ butterfly species found from South America to central North America, named for its migration route over the Gulf of Mexico.Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 7Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 2

The black and orange patterns of this butterfly are a reminder to predators of the toxicidity of its stripy caterpillar  and birds tend to leave them alone. Just in case. The markings are also similar to other butterflies that are poisonous – for example the Monarch.  Tip of the hat to Wiki for the information that “this species belongs to the ‘orange’ Batesian mimicry complex”. Me neither! It is where an innocuous species resembles a noxious one in order to discourage predators without going to the bother of actually developing its own ‘on-board’ toxins.

Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 4Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 3

File:Gulf Fritillary Life Cycle.svgGulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 1Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 5

The gulf fritillary is common on Abaco, as elsewhere in the Bahamas. I particularly fond of the photo below, in which the whole feeding apparatus can be seen. I haven’t done my homework, I’m afraid. If anyone wants to provide the technical terms (mouth? proboscis? tongue-thing?), that would be welcome. Please use the comment box to spread enlightenment.Gulf Fritillary Abaco CSK 6

FURTHER BUTTERFLIES YOU MAY ENJOY

ZEBRA HELICONIANS

ATALA HAIRSTREAKS and LIFECYCLE OF THE ATALA HAIRSTREAK

Credits: all amazing photos by Charlie Skinner, except header image Wiki – to which credit also for the graphic and some info in particular ‘Batesian Mimicry complex’, which is definitely one to drop lightly into conversation…

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1) ZEBRA HELICONIANS


Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 3

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1) ZEBRA HELICONIANS

The Zebra Heliconian butterfly Heliconius charithonia is also know as the Zebra Longwing.  These striking butterflies roost nightly in large colonies, a species behaviour that is believed to be a protective measure against predation, providing safety in numbers (or at least reducing the probabilities that you will be the one to be eaten). In 1996 the Zebra Longwing was appointed the State Butterfly of Florida.

Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 1Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 2Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 5Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 4Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 6Zebra Heliconium Abaco CS 7Credits: all images by Charles Skinner, taken in the vicinity of the Delphi Club, Abaco

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco 12

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

This is the second of three vaguely planned posts about these delightful shore birds. They aren’t rare but they are approachable and fun to watch. During the nesting and hatching season, there may even be some gorgeous chicks on a beach near you (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself using). PART ONE identified the typical male and female adults found on the Delphi beach almost any day. 

Nettie's Point, Abaco - Trucks & Skiffs

This post is about nest protection. Not the ingenious methods of  the birds themselves, that will come next time. This is a story of protection by humans. The photograph above shows Nettie’s Point, one of the launching points for bonefishing skiffs being taken out to the Marls, a vast area of sea, low sand banks and mangroves where the fish are found. You hope. The skiffs gain access to open sea via an artificial channel carved out of rock. The early morning trip along it is one of the most exciting part of a fisherman’s day, as he or she sets out with a clean score sheet, a rod and a box of flies. And a cooler box with some food and maybe a Kalik beer or three.

Nettie's Point, Abaco - the cut to the sea

This June, a pair of plovers decided to locate their nesting ‘scrape’ right in the middle of the cleared area where the trucks normally turn. This was by no means a wise home-planning decision, and they might well have found themselves being promptly relocated. Or (worst case scenario) ending up under a large Toyota. But not a bit of it. Instead, these small birds were looked after by the guides like this: Nettie's Point, Abaco - Plover's nest protection

A makeshift castle was built all round the nest to protect it from any inadvertent truck-related tragedies. Meanwhile the male plover stood guard outside the castle, amiably watching the human activities. Nettie's Point, Abaco - Male Wilson's Plover guards nest

I kept my distance but in fact he was quite unperturbed, perhaps sensing that we were not a threat. He still kept a beady eye on the proceedings, though.Nettie's Point, Abaco - male Wilson's Plover guards a nest

Meanwhile, what of the wooden enclosure itself? At first glance, there didn’t look much to report. However, if you look in the centre of the picture, you’ll see the female peeping out from the nest.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Nest protection 2

I very slowly moved nearer, prepared to stop if the male became agitated, or if the female shifted her position. Both seemed quite relaxed, so I took a couple of shots and walked away to leave the birds in peace. Then I went fishing.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Female Wilson's Plover on NestNettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest

As a postscript, Nettie’s Point is the location of a remarkable geographical phenomenon, possibly the result of the cutting of the channel. Along one part of the cut, for about 30 feet, the water level sinks alarming in the middle, while remaining normal at each side. Then it levels out again. This remarkable mid-stream aquatic depression is quite disconcerting to motor through on a skiff, though eventually one gets used to it. Nettie's Point, Abaco - channel water phenomenon(Note: not every fact in this post is 100% true. If you have some salt handy, take a pinch)

‘DREAM PLOVER’: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco Header

‘DREAM PLOVER’: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (1)

Dream Plover? Well, granted, not quite as adorable as the tiny surf-chasers, the Piping Plovers Charadrius melodus. But Wilson’s Plovers Charadrius wilsonia live on Abaco all year round, and may readily be seen on a beach near you. They breed on Abaco, and in the summer you’ll see their tiny puffball chicks scampering round. And if you approach a nest, you’ll very likely see the amazing ‘broken wing display’ by a parent, who will lurch strickenly and pathetically across the sand… leading a predator gradually further away from the nest or her chicks. Part 2 will include photos of this fascinating protective performance, and of some chicks on the Delphi beach.

MALE WILSON’S PLOVERWilson's Plover, Abaco 12

FEMALE WILSON’S PLOVERWilson's Plover, Abaco 11

And who was the Wilson who lent his name not only to a plover, but also to a snipe, a warbler, a storm-petrel and a phalarope, all birds that have been recorded for Abaco?

ALEXANDER WILSON (1766- 1813)

Wilson was Scottish poet.  Besides traditional ballads, he also wrote satirical commentary on the conditions of mill weavers. One vicious tirade against a particular mill owner resulted in Wilson’s arrest. He was sentenced to burn the work in public, and imprisoned. After his release, he sensibly emigrated to America in 1794.

Wilson's Plover, Abaco 2

Wilson became a teacher in Pennsylvania, where he developed an interest in ornithology and painting. He ambitiously decided to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America. He spent several years travelling, collecting material and painting, eventually publishing the nine-volume American Ornithology. Of the 268 species of birds illustrated there, 26 had never previously been described.  

SIDE-ON AND FRONT VIEWS OF THE SAME MALE PLOVER Wilson's Plover, Abaco 5Wilson's Plover, Abaco 6

FRONT AND SIDE VIEW OF THE SAME FEMALE PLOVER

Wilson's Plover, Abaco 9Wilson's Plover, Abaco 8

All birds on this page were photographed on the Delphi Beach. They happily coexist there with other shore bird species that include Least Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and Killdeer. Here is a taster for Part 2, the family life of the Wilson’s plover. Wilson's Plover, Abaco 13

A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD AT DELPHI, ABACO


Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 4

A CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD AT DELPHI, ABACO

Mostly, the Cuban Emeralds at Delphi spend their days perching briefly on twigs before zooming like tiny green rockets to their next appointment – an inviting sugar-water feeder, a promising flower or maybe yet another tempting twig. Sometimes, pairs will put on an acrobatic mid-air display, flitting around each other at high speed, chittering, before disappearing into the coppice together. Avian speed-dating. Occasionally, they are more contemplative. I recently posted HERE about one that had let me get (very slowly) right up to it. Emeralds may be quite hard to spot in amongst the green leaves, but often they are there, quietly watching you go by. Here is one that stayed put when I stopped to admire it.

I’m keeping an eye on you… Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 1

I’ll tuck my wing in neatly if you are going to take pics of meCuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 2

Uh-oh! Close-ups. This is my better side.
Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 3

That’s enough, human. I’ve stopped the posing. Now push off and leave me alone.Cuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 5

In close-up, the feathers look like tiny iridescent pine needle fansCuban Emerald Delphi Abaco 6

The Delphi Club: a hive of activity for birds (to mangle a metaphor)The Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas

ENJOYING THE POOL: YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS ON ABACO


Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 5

ENJOYING THE POOL: YELLOW-CROWNED NIGHT HERONS ON ABACO

The Yellow-crowned Night Heron (Nyctanassa violate) is a smallish heron, and avian counterpart to the Black-crowned Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax). The clue to the main difference between them is in the names. The juveniles of both species are similar. The ‘night’ part of the name refers to their preferred time for feeding. They have broad appetites that include crustaceans, molluscs, frogs, fish, and aquatic insects. 

Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 6

At Delphi, these lovely birds are regularly seen in gardens round the pool; drinking from the pool; standing hopefully waiting for prey to show itself in the water; and occasionally getting a bit confused by the whole thing (see below). Delphi Club Pool

Looking rightYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 7

Looking wet and ruffledYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 8

Looking hungryYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 9

Looking contentedYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 10

The YNCH will stand motionless, waiting to ambush its prey. So a human, wandering to the pool laden with towel, book, iWotsit™, sun stuff and a cool Kalik, may easily not spot the bird at first. It will have seen you first, anyway, and moved away quietly if it isn’t too sure about you. However, they can be surprisingly tame if not startled. You may settle down, and suddenly sense that you are being watched from the other side of the pool…Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Delphi (DR)

Peter Mantle managed to capture a wonderful moment when a juvenile YCNH made a bit of a mistake early one morning while the pool cover was still in place… It looks embarrassed and slightly apologetic.Yellow-crowned Night Heron (juv) PM IMG_4607 (2)

Usually, these birds are to be found in marshy areas, or by brackish ponds where (unlike the pool) there is a ready supply of food for them. A few miles south of Delphi is an excellent pond for birding near Crossing Rocks, where there is always the chance of seeing an unusual or rare species. Herons and egrets often use the landing stage as a vantage point for scoping out the feeding opportunities. The next pictures are of a juvenile (?teenage) YCNH doing just that – and fortunately, the pond does not have a cover to cause discombobulation of the species. Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 3 Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 2Yellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 4

Black-crowned night heron for comparison220px-Black-crowned_Night_Heron_RWD7

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Photo credits: All RH except the across-pool-starer (David Rainford); the confused juvenile on the pool cover (Peter Mantle); and the last 2 comparatives (Wiki)

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO


Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco Header

THE CROSS LITTLE WOODPECKER: A TRUE HAIRY TALE FROM ABACO

ONCE UPON A TIME, on a magical far away island called Abaco, where the sun always shone and the people were always friendly and smiling, there lived a little woodpecker. It was a beautiful little woodpecker with long shiny golden locks and its name was Hairy… oh look, I can’t go on with this drivel and neither can you, I’m sure. Sorry about that. Let’s take it from the top…

    ♦      ♦      ♦      ♦

I have mentioned before the excellent birding opportunities that a wander round the Delphi drive circuit has to offer. It’s the best part of 2 miles. I am working on a list of all species encountered on the route from the Lodge, along the guest drive to the white rock on the road, and back down the service drive. It is turning out to be a gratifyingly long one.

During your stroll, it’s worth checking out the dead trees, especially the upper trunk and branches, as you go. For a start, these provide excellent places for birds to pause and scope out the territory below. They also have a good chance of finding insects there. And for some species, like the Hairy Woodpecker Picoides villosus, it is home. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 16

The Hairy Woodpecker is very similar to the Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens, the smallest woodpecker of North America. Male HWs have a prominent red patch on the back of the head.  You can find an earlier post about a male HW and its nest in the Delphi coppice, with some HW species facts, HERE

220px-Picoides-villosus-001

Last June Tom Sheley, a birding expert and photographer from Ohio with serious (by which I mean huge camo-covered camera and tripod) equipment, was staying at Delphi. He tipped me off about a woodpecker nest he’d found 1/3 of the way along the guest drive, just before the first bend. So I grabbed a camera –  the wrong one, as it turned out, but my main camera battery was charging – and headed out. I found the nest at the top of a dead tree near the edge of the drive (shown above) and a female HW close to it. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 1

She watched my approach carefully, and as soon as I paused close to the nest tree, she went into a fascinating ‘diversionary tactic’ routine to distract me from the nest. She flew across the track close in front of me, and settled on a tree on the other side of the drive, about 1/3 of the way up its trunk. There, she proceeded to scold me loudly as I fiddled about with the camera… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 3

Still scolding, she then started to climb the tree quite slowly, pausing occasionally to fire off some more angry woodpecker abuse at me. Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 6

From time to time, she would change tack, closing her eyes gradually and hugging the trunk. This was presumably to make herself appear vulnerable to a predator (me), and therefore retain its (my) interest. If anyone is familiar with this behaviour, please leave a comment.Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 5

The woodpecker carried on up the tree, chattering as she went…Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 7

…before performing the closed eye / sleepy routine againHairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 11Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 12

By now she was nearing the top of the tree, and I was thinking of giving in… Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 13 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 14 Hairy Woodpecker, Delphi Abaco 15

Once she had reached the very top, I made the decision to move on, marvelling at her persistence in taking on a two-legged predator 6ft 5″ high and… not exactly a bantam-weight. Then I realised that, in all of this, I hadn’t thought of the nest behind me a single time. She and her distraction technique had won, and so I made my apologies for disturbing her and left. HW 1, Human 0. At least I knew that on a hot cloudless day I had something to look forward to back at the ranch… 

coasters