Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4


In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3


Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3


A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett

Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos


Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco


There are various overwrought ‘describing’ words that have become devalued and tired through overuse. Unique. Unsurpassed. Unparalleled. Iconic. However the famous and much-loved Elbow Cay Lighthouse could plausibly lay claim to any one of those adjectives. Let’s make that ‘all’. Earlier this year, following a meticulous survey, repairs and refurbishments were made to this stately 89 foot high, 101 step light that came into operation in 1863 during the height of the American Civil War. 

You can read more about the lighthouse, its importance and its machinery in various earlier posts (use the search box), and there is other material including details of the recent repair program HERE. This post is simply to advertise the forthcoming 2nd Lighthouse Festival that takes place in Tuesday June 23rd. The flyer below tells you all you need to know about the day.


For this event, the students of Hope Town Primary School, in conjunction with the invaluable ELBOW REEF LIGHTHOUSE SOCIETY , have produced a wonderful book celebrating the lighthouse, with proceeds of sale benefitting the school’s volunteer programs and the Society’s ongoing projects. I am sure will be a best seller – make it happen!


As last year, the events will include an auction. Among the wide variety of items to be auctioned will be a 15″ x 15″ print on canvas of my photo of a Western Spindalis, taken on the drive of the Delphi Club and included in “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” (a copy of which was auctioned last year). 

Western Spindalis, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Maybe a few more pics of such an interesting building are called for…. And a reminder of some key words to scatter liberally into your conversation at the event. Or anywhere, really: “Fresnel Lenses”, “Mercury Bed”, “Clockwork Mechanism”, “Trinity House, London”.Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay Abaco

Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Lamp, Fresnel Lens) hoplit22 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit20 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit19 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit18 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit17 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco (Fresnel Lens) hoplit6 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit4 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit2 Hope Town Lighthouse, Elbow Cay, Abaco hoplit3

And finally a wonderful photo of Hope Town centred on the Lighthouse complex. Enjoy June 23rd.Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Credits: Lighthouse exteriors and Spindalis RH; all interiors Mrs RH; props to Elbow Reef Lighthouse Society (and ?David Rees for the aerial view…); Annie Potts for her inspiring book “Last Lights” about the intriguing lighthouses of the Bahamas


Winslow Homer G W Original Brooklyn


Following on from my post last month HOLE-IN-THE WALL: THE PAST, it’s time to take a closer look at the ‘Gap-in-the-Wall’ as it is today, viewed from the sea. I’ve called this a ‘unique perspective’, but I’m sure many people have taken photos of HITW from the sea. It just that apart from a few kayaking ones from before the collapse of the arch, I haven’t found them. So I took some, thanks to the BMMRO and their research RHIB. 

Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 01 Location photo map

The view above is taken from some way to the west of HITW, and I have marked the main features that will be shown in this post. As one approaches the promontory, the lighthouse and its outbuildings are the only sign of human intervention to be seen in the landscape. Historically there were small settlements in this remote place, and some traces of these remain.

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (sea view)

Closing in on the former ‘Hole’, fresh damage from Hurricane Sandy’s destruction of the arch is still visible. It is more conspicuous on the other side.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 03 Collapsed arch (Hurricane Sandy)

In this photo, you can follow the features from the lighthouse to the foreshortened promontory, the new gap, the small islet that now exists, and finally a small eroded outcrop of rock – the remains of an extension of the mainland, and probably evidencing the southern tip of another arch that collapsed centuries ago.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 04 Light, hole and outcrop

Passing the outcrop and round to the east side of the promontory, further evidence of fresh damage can be seen, with the main shear being on the north side of the arch.Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 05 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 09Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 07Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 10

There’s a fine view of the lighthouse from the east Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 11

As we started the return journey to Sandy Point via groups of whales and dolphins, we went close to the outcrop, land’s end (next stop, Nassau). Even on a calm day, it is still thrashed by waves, as the second photo shows: no wonder it has eroded so quickly…  See how it looked in the 1803 aquatint below, from which one can see how there must have once been an even larger ‘hole in the wall’ way back in history and long since collapsed even by then. Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 12 Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 13Hole in the Wall Print 1803

Then it was time to move on, having been fortunate enough to see the location from an entirely new angleHole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 14Hole-in-the-Wall Abaco (2015-2) 15


The geological future of the Hole-in the-Wall landscape is presumably that erosion and rising sea levels will sink the outcrop below the waves; the islet left after the collapse of the arch will similarly erode over the centuries, as in time will the whole promontory. Maybe as it gets thinner, another hole will be worn through by the waves. The restoration of the lighthouse, long promised, may perhaps take place. The nautical importance of the area suggests that the historic need for a light as both landmark and warning will continue. And who knows: even now, plans for wholesale redevelopment of the area could be on a drawing board somewhere…

Hole-in-the-Wall Lighthouse Abaco (Notice) hitw9


The header image is the well-known watercolour by Winslow Homer (1836 – 1910), the original of which is in the Brooklyn Museum. It was painted in 1885 and is entitled ‘Glass Windows’. This is commonly claimed to be the famous ‘Glass Window’ feature on Eleuthera. However my own theory is that it in fact depicts Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco. There are a number of good reasons for this, but the most immediately striking is the title Homer himself gave to an engraving of the identical view, published in The Century magazine (Feb 1887). This engraving pre-dates, and was clearly the template for, the watercolour. The rock structure and even the cloud formations are identical. And the title “On Abaco Island” seems conclusive of the location.

Hole-in-the-Wall Picture

Credits: All photos, RH; Winslow Homer painting, Brooklyn Museum online archive


Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 4


It’s time to revisit the wonderful caves that lie below the landmass of Abaco. Unknown to many, there are parts of the island where below your feet are huge networks of caves and tunnels packed with beautiful crystal and mystery. I lack any of the necessary qualifications to explore these for myself (some serious equipment including camera, ability to swim properly, and courage) but thanks to diving exert Brian Kakuk, my own deficiencies are irrelevant…

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 3

Two caves in particular, Ralph’s and Dan’s, are rich in exotic crystals, stalactites and stalagmites. They can be found close to each other on South Abaco, deep in the pine forest. All images here are from Ralph’s cave, one of several cave / blue hole complexes that are soon to form part of the South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (boundaries shown in fig. 1). Rolling Harbour (where the Delphi Club is situated) is the curved bay to the bottom right corner, under the acronym GEBCO

Abaco caves map jpg Abaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Apart from the amazing sight of the cave chambers themselves, the details of the crystal formations – often geometric -are remarkable close-to. Here are 3 examples that demonstrate how they range from strong-looking structures formed over millennia to the most delicate forms such as in the third image that appear to be made from fine fabric.

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 1 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 2 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 5

And if you wondering about the title of this post, this is the reason: Brian discovered a bat, believed to be at least 13,000 years old, entombed in crystal – not so much a fossilised bat as a crystallised bat… In other caves (at the Sawmill Sink blue hole for example), fossilised bones have been found, including of a prehistoric species of crocodile that must have lived on the island many thousands of years ago. This is the first crystallised creature I have ever seen… I am checking with Brian whether he has seen anything else quite like it during his explorations.

Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 6 Ralph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk) 15.5 : 7

Credits: all images by Brian Kakuk, with thanks as ever for use permission; all crystal by magic; preserved bat by gradual accretion




THE CARIBBEAN ENDEMIC BIRD FESTIVAL (CEBF) is a Caribbean-wide festival that aims to heighten awareness for birds generally in the region. It is sponsored by the excellent BIRDS CARIBBEAN organisation – click the link to see what it is all about. Birds, obviously, but from the points of view both of promoting and of preserving the rich avian variety throughout the Caribbean.

As part of the CEBF celebrations this month, a birding group from New Providence came to Abaco to explore the birdlife. The expedition group included several well-known local bird experts, all the better for locating and identifying species and ensuring a comprehensive checklist could be compiled. Also in the group was photographer Linda Huber, whose photos you will undoubtedly have seen in Bahamas publications, including the recently published small guide BEAUTIFUL BAHAMA BIRDS (click to see my review and further details – highly recommended for any birder from novice up). Here are a few of Linda’s photos of some of the birds seen during the expedition, a gallery that shows the extraordinary diversity of species to found in a short time on Abaco.

Apologies to those who received a ‘false start’ draft of this post. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, I pressed ‘Save Draft’… or thought I had. Why is the ‘Publish’ button so close? Oh. Right. I see. It’s not its fault, it’s mine…

Western Spindalis Spindalis zena                   Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Amazona leucocephala bahamensis  DSC00210_2 DSC00216_2

Bahama Yellowthroat Geothlypis rostrata                   Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachiiDSC00298_3 DSC00317_2

Bahama Warbler Setophaga flavescens                         Black-faced Grassquit Tiaris bicolorDSC00356_3 DSC00381_3

                                                        Yellow Warbler Dendroica petechia                                                                DSC00371_2 DSC00378_2

Bahama Swallow Tachycineta cyaneoviridis              Cuban Pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis  DSC00399_3 DSC00413_2

Olive-capped Warbler Dendroica pityophila            Pearly-eyed Thrasher Margarops fuscatusDSC00422_2 DSC00501_3

                              West Indian Woodpecker Melanerpes superciliaris                                             DSC00475_2  DSC00278_3

                                                      Canada Goose Branta canadensis                                                                             DSC00566 DSC00642_2

White-cheeked Pintails Anas bahamensis                   Caribbean Coot Fulica caribaea     DSC00612_2 DSC00627_3

Muscovy Duck Cairina moschata                                   European Starling Sturnus vulgaris        DSC00639_2  DSC00524_2

Mangrove Cuckoo Coccyzus minor                    La Sagra’s Flycatcher Myiarchus sagrae lucaysiensisDSC00675_2 DSC00694_2_2

Cuban Emerald Chlorostilbon ricordii                        Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Polioptila caerulea DSC00721_2 DSC09484_2

The gallery above includes a number of specialist birds and others of particular interest. In brief:

  • 3 of the 4 ENDEMIC SPECIES found on Abaco (omitting only the Bahama Woodstar)
  • The famous, incomparable and indeed unique ground-nesting ABACO PARROT
  • 4 ‘local’ subspecies of birds also found beyond the Bahamas
  • 1 of only 5 resident warblers, the Olive-capped (of 37 recorded for Abaco)
  • The most recent addition to the birds recorded for Abaco PEARLY-EYED THRASHER
  • The WEST-INDIAN WOODPECKER, now found only on Abaco and (rarely) San Salvador
  • 2 or 3 introduced or domestic species (if that Muscovy Duck was at Gilpin Point it’s a pet!)
  • The debatable ‘Caribbean Coot’, about which it has been written**  The American Coot is familiar to all, but controversy surrounds the Caribbean Coot with its all-white frontal shield. Some authorities say it is a separate species; others say it is a true subspecies of the American Coot; some claim it is simply a local variant. Bond (1947) treats them as distinct species. The image below shows the two species together. They coexist contentedly and are indifferent to the debate.

American & 'Caribbean' Coot (Tony Hepburn)

The group on a Logging Track in the Abaco National ParkDSC00349

The New Providence Birding Group Expedition to AbacoDSC00706_3

 Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival Flyer

CREDITS All photos Linda Huber (with many thanks for use permission) except the pair of coots (Tony Hepburn) and the singing Bahama Yellowthroat in the BNT Flyer (Bruce Hallett)

** Keith Salvesen, The Birds of Abaco p22


Shadows on the Flats, Crossing Rocks, Abaco


Does any ‘fun’ (toxic concept) ever happen around Rolling Harbour? All that detailed business about our little winged friends. All that earnest historic stuff with, like, maps and things. All those fish that are basically just… fish. Ditto the flowers. The prints of Whales (geddit?). But does Rolling Harbour ever truly come alive?

Well here’s a little brief entertainment in a skiff setting off from Crossing Rocks for a day of bonefishing, throwing some shapes along the twisty channel between the jetty and the flats beyond. Anyone who has enjoyed the sometimes exhilarating / sometimes painful (in choppy waves) skiff trips on Abaco to get out to the bonefish grounds will relate to this. You get 2 versions: high definition, with some pretentious music to match the mood. According to me. 

Here’s a smaller version with a more familiar theme (also to be found on the Sidebar of this blog) for those who are allergic to pretentious music… it’s more ‘fun’, in fact.

Dreadits: all stuff, RH; music by Preston Reed and Commander Bond


Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 14


[Camera. Lights. ACTION] Attenborough, D (for it is he), off-screen, in familiar breathy tones…

“Here, deep in the impenetrable pine forests of the Abaco National Park, lives an incredible bird discovery until recently known only to four people in the world. For here, where the unique Abaco Parrots nest in their underground holes and the rare Kirtland’s Warbler continues its brave stand against extinction… here is a completely new bird subspecies that is destined to take the avian world by storm… the Red-faced Bahama Mockingbird Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii…”

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 06

I can’t keep that nonsense up for any longer, you’ll be relieved to hear… But here is the story. Woody Bracey was taking us, with his friend Bill, in search of the rare and elusive Kirtland’s Warbler, about which more soon (*Spoiler Alert* Yes, we did. Four). We had stopped the truck in a remote area of the National Park to listen for and indeed watch parrots. I was in the front of the truck, window down, listening hard when suddenly, right by us, I suddenly heard the beautiful song of a Bahama Mockingbird. Here are two recordings I made the previous year – the first is over 1 min long, the second is only 17 secs.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 07

I grabbed my camera and started to fire away at the bird, which was perched on a dead branch just a few feet away near the edge of the track. I had no time to think about depth of field, light balance, or refrangible focus indices, I just went for it. It was Woody who first noticed the remarkable feature of this bird – its red face. It first, I thought it was just on the chin, but later I saw that the red colouring is above the beak as well.

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 09

Woody is one of the most experienced birders in the Bahamas, and he had never come across this variant before. Sometimes a bird may have white patches or some other LEUCISTIC colour variation. But red is something very different. Once we had ruled out blood (no evidence of injury) and strawberry jam (no likelihood of a propensity for sticking face in same), an altogether more exciting possibility began to emerge…

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 10

The Bahamas Birding Triumvirate will be debating this find, no doubt. Is this sort of red-faced variant found in any other bird species? Is it a one-off? Or is it perhaps one example of a small subspecies confined to Abaco or the wider Bahamas? Or does it just come from eating red berries, as in photo #3? Has anyone come across a BM like this one? Any comment welcome via the comment box or email. 

Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 11

This is my personal favourite pic, taken while the bird was in mid-song. I’d have liked an ‘open mouth’ shot, but frankly when you find an apparently new bird in the middle of nowhere, you can’t have everything….Bahama Mockingbird (variant) Abaco 13

Finally, you may well ask “So that’s all very well, but what does a ‘normal’ Bahama Mockingbird look like close-to?” Here’s an example for comparison 

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco 2


STOP PRESS (MAY 2015) The jury is back, the verdict unexciting (as I suppose was inevitable). The Bahamas Birding Sages have concluded that the red markings are simply staining from berries, as seen in #3 above. This is the obvious solution, but I am grateful to those (culminicola in the comments below, and a birding forum where this post has been discussed) who suggested the possibility of red pollen. The pine forest in which we saw this bird doesn’t in fact have flowers – or anyway red-pollened flowers – so berries must be the answer. In short, no Mimus bahamensis volvensharborii

All photos RH, cheers to Woody for leading the trip and for spotting the unusual features of this bird PDQ