Pristis_pectinata _Georgia_Aquarium_ Diliff Wiki


Exactly a year ago, an extraordinary find was made out on the Abaco Marls. Almost disguised against the pale mud under the low water was the first sawfish reported for the Marls. This fish is not merely a rarity in the Northern Bahamas: all species of sawfishes worldwide are IUCN listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Here is an account of the discovery reported by FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT: “On a recent fishing trip in the Marls with local guide Justin Sands, Sam and Jacque Cannon had an exciting encounter. As Justin was poling the flats, with Sam on the bow searching for bonefish, Jacque spotted a Sawfish! Jacque and Justin quickly forgot about Sam and his efforts to catch a bonefish and turned their focus to the Sawfish. This is a very rare sighting and one we are happy there was a camera available to document it…” A couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to sit next to Jacque at dinner at the Delphi Club, so I was able to hear at first hand the story of this amazing find. It also turned out to be the perfect time to sign an early copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for Jacque and Sam… 1900063_10152069487394482_984358031_n

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)


  • Sawfishes are also known as Carpenter Sharks; their ‘saw’ is called a ROSTRUM
  • There are 7 species in oceans and seas worldwide, including the Mediterranean
  • All populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss, overfishing & pollution
  • The rostrum is used to feel, to dig, to slash & impale or stun its prey, and for defence
  • Sawfishes are nocturnal creatures and spend a lot of time face down on the sea floor
  • Like sharks, their skeleton is made of cartilage and not bone.
  • Some species can grow up to 7m long
  • They are generally unaggressive unless provoked but fight strongly when caught
  • Sawfishes are slow breeders, making population recovery more difficult
  • Babies are called ‘pups’. Their rostrum is flexible and sheathed until after birth
Sawfish seen from Underwater Tunnel - Atlantis, Nassau Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Sawfish seen from below – Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Other sawfish have been seen recently in the Northern Bahamas, though not in Abaco waters. Last summer the Bahamas National Trust posted 2 great images of a Smalltooth Sawfish, saying “BNT was excited to receive these photographs of a Smalltooth Sawfish photographed in the proposed East Grand Bahama National Park – Bersus Cay Area. The sawfish was 12 to 13 feet long and was seen in water that was 2 -3 feet deep. Thank you to Buzz Cox, Island Manager at Deep water Cay for sending us these photos”. Sawfish, Grand Bahama Sawfish, Grand Bahama


POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels.

THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal).

LEGAL PROTECTION Capturing a sawfish is illegal in certain countries, including the United States. The sale of smalltooth sawfish rostra is prohibited in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.  The import for sale of that of any sawfish species is also prohibited. The international trade of sawfish was banned by the CITES convention in June 2007.
For those that want to find out  a bit more detail about these issues, there’s plenty on interesting information in a scientific (but readable) paper from NOAA – click the link below

A very recent Bahamas smalltooth sawfish sighting on Bimini – Jan 2015Pristis_pectinata_(smalltooth_sawfish)_(Bimini,_western_Bahamas) Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015 Wiki

Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) Bimini, Bahamas – Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015

Time for some footage of these rare and wonderful creatures in the Bahamas. The first is from John Flanagan and was taken during a dive off Bimini in early 2014. He was so surprised by the sight that he nearly forgot to turn on his camera to take a short video… The second is a longer 5 min video taken off Andros by Grant Johnson of “wild footage of the critically endangered Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The west side of Andros, Bahamas is one of the last places on Earth that still provides vast refuge for this incredible animal”.

Finally, you may be wondering how exactly the sawfish uses its rostrum to stun fish, as mentioned earlier. Watch this short video – see how quickly it moves, for such an apparently cumbersome and dozy creature…
Credits as shown above, with particular mention of Jacque Cannon for probably the first known sighting and anyway photo of an Abaco sawfish…; header pic in aquarium Diliff (Wiki)


Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 1


I’ve been deleting old photos from past Abaco trips to free up space for some new ones. Why did I keep all those dreary back views of small birds? How many black shadow pics of Turkey Vultures flying high in a blue sky does one need? What’s with the blurry butterflies? Then I came across a clump of hibiscus photos taken in the Delphi garden last March. Can’t have too many of them, so here are a few to enjoy. In two weeks we will be among them again, and no doubt I’ll take a lot a few more. As if there aren’t enough already.  Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 4Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 3 Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 5Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 7 Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 9 Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 8Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 6Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 10Hibiscus, Delphi, Abaco 2


Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco - Becky Marvil

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco – Becky Marvil


The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage. In my thin disguise as a person with apparent knowledge about the wildlife of a country that is not my own, I get frequent requests for bird ID. Some, I know at once. Some I have to think about, my memory not being quite as…

Where was I? Yes, bird ID. I use BRUCE HALLETT’S book of course, and online the CORNELL LAB and AUDUBON sites. OISEUX-BIRDS is also a good resource and has a large archive of images. And of course dear old Google – they may watch your every keystroke and know more about you than you do yourself, but put a bird’s name into Google Images and you’ll probably see your bird in every static pose or flight you need for ID. They’ll log that too for future use. I have had some queries about Bahama Woodstar gender ID, and more recently, Cuban Emeralds. So here are the adult males and females of each species in all their undoubted glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (m), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Bahama Woodstar, Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Velma Knowles)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco  (Tara Lavallee)

Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)


Males have a glorious purple, showy ‘gorget’. Females are less flamboyant, and have grey throats and fronts. Tara’s wonderful photo above vividly demonstrates their more delicate beauty. It’s one of my personal favourites from “BIRDS OF ABACO“, along with Tom Sheley’s above, the bird that graces the jacket. 

 CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (male), Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)


Male emeralds are basically… er… emerald green all over , apart from the wings. Females have grey throats and fronts, and lack the chestnut frontal band of the female woodstar. I’d say that their iridescent green is a different metallic shade from the male, but that may be just me. I don’t have the palette vocab to describe it, but advice welcome! Perhaps one can simply say it is more subtle.


The answer is ‘No’. But don’t make a special trip to see the third species – they are casual / irregular vagrants only, and a definite sighting will be a rarity. But just in case, here are stock photos of a male and a female, and (taken on Abaco by Bruce Hallett) an immature male of the species…


MaleRuby-throated hummer (Steve Maslowski, Wiki)

FemaleRuby-throated Hummingbird (Tim Ross Wiki)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, immature)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (male, imm), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

This is an attractive print of the R-tH by MenaboniRuby-throated Hummingbird - Menaboni

To complete this post, I’ll add a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I reckon spans the boundary between photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Bahama Woodstar female.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

Credits: In addition to those shown below images, Steve Maslowski and Tim Ross for the RTHs


Vireo_philadelphicus Brian Mcclure (wiki) CROP


Vireos haven’t had as much attention as they deserve hereabouts. I have posted about the BLACK-WHISKERED VIREO, but the 7 other vireo species found on Abaco haven’t had much of a look in. It’s a wrong that I shall right at once by featuring the rather shy Philadelphia Vireo Vireo philadelphicus. Here is the full list of the vireos recorded for Abaco, from which you will see that only the Thick-billed Vireo is a common permanent resident. The Black-whiskered vireo is a common summer breeding resident; there are 2 uncommon winter residents; and the other 4 are transients that chose Abaco as a resting place on their migrations.

Taken from ‘The Birds of Abaco’ checklist by Tony White with Woody BraceyVIREO CHECKLIST


This little bird tends  to be described with such unkind adjectives as ‘drab’, ‘dull’ and ‘plain’, but  like many under-appreciated species it has its own charm. The header image and the one above give excellent close-up views. The signifiers include the dark eyes, white eyebrows, the dark line through the eyes, the yellow underparts, and in the negative sense the complete absence of eye rings, wing bars or tail markings. And the thick bill is one quick way to distinguish it from similar-looking warbler species, with their generally smaller, pointy beaks. SONY DSC

The Philadelphia Vireo has a wide range, from its summer breeding grounds as far north as Canada down to its winter quarters in Mexico and South America. They have even, very rarely, been seen in Europe. The connection with Philadelphia is somewhat tenuous and arises because the bird was first identified in 1842 from a specimen collected near Philadelphia. However their visits there are brief, since at best it is only a stopover on their migration route…vire_phil_AllAm_map

Philadelphia Vireo (Vireo philadelphicus Dominic Sherony wiki

Here is the song comparison between (in order) the Philly, the familiar TBV whose song accompanies everyday life on Abaco, and the Black-whiskered vireo. My TBV recording is rather quieter than the other 2.

 Andrew Spencer / Xeno Canto

RH at Delphi

 Brian Cox / Xeno-Canto

Philadelphia Vireo William H. Majoros wiki If you want to know how to record birdsong easily using an iPhone or equivalent CLICK HERE 

Credits: Woody Bracey (2, 3); Brian McClure, Dominic Sherony, William H. Majoros, Xeno Canto, Wiki, Cornell Lab


Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 2


The occasion: a trip to Sandy Point for a lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s in honour of  Sandy Walker at the end of his 5 years as manager of the Delphi Club. A pair of brown pelicans on the nearby dock were clumsily flying around, diving, perching, drying their feathers, then repeating the cycle. In a quiet moment I slipped away to watch them – and a Great Blue Heron landed quite close by me. So as well as taking photos of the pelicans, I pointed the camera at the heron from time to time. My favourite view is of it standing proudly on the edge of the dock, with the truly azure sea behind it (header and final image).

Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 6



I don’t have a fancy camera. I would never get the settings right before the bird had flown. Or died, even. So I had been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ45 kindly given to me by Mrs RH in a benign moment, possibly Christmas. Then I made a classic error of upgrading to an FZ72 with an alleged massive 60X zoom. Brilliant, I thought. Big mistake. My old camera has a Leica lens. Used with care and a lens extension (zeugma score!), it is / I am occasionally capable of taking pin-sharp photos. The upgrade camera’s lens turned out not to be a Leica. Almost all the shots I took were ‘soft’, the more so using the zoom. A soft photo taken with a less good lens, zoomed 60X, will never be a better photo. Just an even softer one. I wish I’d had Old Faithful with me instead. When we got home, I immediately dug out OF and sold 60X disappointment. OF is now reinstated as my BF.  

The shots of this heron mostly turned out fairly well, largely because it stayed quite close to me. It flew off a couple of times, then returned to the edge of the dock. Here are a few close-up views of the heron selected from the various pics I took, showing some of the details of this fine bird. Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 3 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 4 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 5Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 7Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 10 Then I remembered why I was meant to be at Sandy Point, and went back to Nancy’s for conch fritters and a Kalik or two well OK make that three… Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 11


Otis Redding recorded ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’, arguably his greatest moment, in 1967 a matter of days before he died in a plane crash. The record became the first ever posthumous US Chart #1 (#3 in UK). I’ve dug out a video compo by the excellent Rhino outfit that disinters or at least recycles gems from our musical heritage. It’s not just the voice of Otis Redding that makes this song so poignant and so good – Steve Cropper’s guitar is outstanding too.

Guitarists out there – you want a ‘Chase Chart’, don’t you?


A rare photo of Sandy (centre back row, sunnies on cap) smilingSandy at Sandy Point

Photo Credits: RH, er… that it…


Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba


I’m feeling distinctly crabby right now. In a skilled move that would impress the Bahamas utility providers, the UK’s very own much-vaunted BT selected us for the privilege of being unplugged from the grid last week. From the time of reporting the problem, it has taken them 6 days to plug us back in. It’s a little reminder of the far more persistent Abaco experience! No landline, no wifi, no email for almost a week. To begin with, it was a light relief. After nearly a week, not funny anymore. Here are some nice crabs in conchs to celebrate getting back online while reflecting my crabby mood.Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy Hermit Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaFind out more about Hermit Crabs – in particular crab racing at Delphi and the intricate rules – here: WACKY RACES AT DELPHIHemit Crab, Delphi (Clare Latimer)

Hermit Crab in a conch ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Photo credits: all undersea shots – Melinda; potential crab race contestant – Clare


Wilson's Plover chick 5.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy small

Wilson’s Plover chick, Delphi Club Beach, Abaco (Tom Sheley)


Abaco is home to 33 shorebird species. Like the human residents of the main island and cays, some are permanent; some are winter visitors arriving to enjoy a warmer climate; and some a transients (e.g. Delphi Club members). To celebrate today being World Shorebirds Day, I am going to feature Abaco’s quota of the world’s shorebirds in 3 posts over the next few days. I’ll start with the definitive checklist of Abaco’s shorebirds compiled by Bahamas Birding author and authority Tony White  with Woody Bracey especially for the BIRDS OF ABACO. I have kept to the conventional / official species order. I’ve let the formatting run wild, though… problematic in WordPress. I may try to sort it. Or perhaps not…

AMERICAN AVOCET Recurvirostra americana   WR 4
American Avocet, New Providence - Tony Hepburn

The codes will tell you, for any particular bird, when you may see it (P = permanent, WR = winter resident, TR = transient, V = vagrant); whether it breeds (B) on Abaco; and your chance of seeing it, graded from easy (1) to vanishingly unlikely (5).

  • Black-necked Stilt                             Himantopus mexicanus              PR B 3
  • American Avocet                               Recurvirostra americana             WR 4
  • American Oystercatcher                  Haematopus palliatus                   PR B 2
  • Black-bellied Plover                          Pluvialis squatarola                      WR 1
  • American Golden-Plover                 Pluvialis dominica                          TR 4
  • Wilson’s Plover                                  Ochthodromus wilsonia               PR B 2
  • Semipalmated Plover                        Charadrius semipalmatus             WR 2
  • Piping Plover                                      Charadrius melodus                     WR 3
  • Killdeer                                                 Charadrius vociferus                  WR 2
  • Spotted Sandpiper                              Actitis macularius                       WR 1
  • Solitary Sandpiper                             Tringa solitaria                              WR 2
  • Greater Yellowlegs                             Tringa melanoleuca                      WR 2
  • Willet                                                     Tringa semipalmata                   PR B 2
  • Lesser Yellowlegs                               Tringa flavipes                              WR 3
  • Ruddy Turnstone                                 Arenaria interpres                        PR 2
  • Red Knot                                                Calidris canutus                         WR 3
  • Sanderling                                             Calidris alba                                WR 1
  • Dunlin                                                    Calidris alpina                             WR 2
  • Least Sandpiper                                   Calidris minutilla                          WR 2
  • White-rumped Sandpiper                  Calidris fuscicollis                           TR 3
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper                  Calidris pusilla                                TR 2
  • Western Sandpiper                             Calidris Mauri                                TR 2
  • Short-billed Dowitcher                      Limnodromus griseus                     WR 1
  • Long-billed Dowitcher                      Limnodromus scolopaceus             WR 4
  • Wilson’s Snipe                                     Gallinago delicata                         WR 3
  • Wilson’s Phalarope                            Phalaropus tricolor                          V 4

Of these 26 birds, 23 are ones you might encounter, though some only if you are lucky or your field-craft is excellent. If you happen upon a Long-billed Dowitcher or an American Avocet, tell someone! And the photo I will be posting of a Wilson’s Phalarope is of the first specimen ever recorded for Abaco. And it so happens that I can illustrate them with photographs, mostly from the book archive… What a coincidence. All except 3 were photographed on Abaco; and I have purposely chosen many that were photographed on the lovely 1-mile curve of white sand watched over by the Delphi Club and historically named ‘Rolling Harbour’.

For the sake of completeness, the other 7 species of shorebird recorded for Abaco – all transients or vagrants – are:

  • Upland Sandpiper                     Bartramia longicauda             TR 4
  • Whimbrel                                    Numenius phaeopus                 TR 4
  • Hudsonian Godwit                   Limosa haemastica                   V5
  • Marbled Godwit                         Limosa fedoa                               V5
  • Buff-breasted Sandpiper          Tryngites subruficollis            V5
  • Pectoral Sandpiper                   Calidris melanotos                    TR 3
  • Stilt Sandpiper                           Calidris himantopus                 TR 3


OK let’s see some of the birds. I’ll post one shot of each of the 26 birds to show them at their best in their perfect environment – wild coastline. Some of these species haven’t yet featured in the blog at all, or else not for a while. Let’s go with some of the larger and / or long-beaked species, including a couple of matching pairs.

GREATER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa melanoleuca   WR 2Greater Yellowlegs LR. Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley.2.12 copy 2

LESSER YELLOWLEGS  Tringa flavipes  WR 3Lesser Yellowlegs.Evening on the Marls.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small2

SHORT-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus griseus  WR 1Short-billed Dowitcher (NB), Abaco - Bruce Hallett 

LONG-BILLED DOWITCHER  Limnodromus scolopaceus   WR 4Long-billed Dowitcher Mike Baird Wiki

WILLETT  Tringa semipalmata  PR B 2Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley small

WILSON’S SNIPE  Gallinago delicata   WR 3Wilson's Snipe, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-NECKED STILT  Himantopus mexicanus  PR B 3Black-necked Stilt, Abaco - Tom Sheley

I’m adding a free  bonus stilt in flight, because it’s such a great shot…Black-necked stilt, Abaco - Alex Hughes

AMERICAN OYSTERCATCHER  Haematopus palliatus PR B 2American Oystercatcher, Abaco 5.1 Tom Sheley

Part 2 will be about the Plovers. Or maybe the Sandpipers





 Photo Credits: Tom Sheley, Bruce Hallett, Tony Hepburn, Mike Baird, Woody Bracey, Alex Hughes

photo                 photo              photo