FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”


Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

FERAL PEACOCKS: SOMETHING COMPLETELY “DIFFERENT (OF ABACO)”

Driving the Highway south from Marsh Harbour, past the turn-off to Winding Bay and Cherokee, you reach an unassuming side road. This takes you to Casuarina, its gorgeous beach and the canal cut that leads to Cherokee Sound and … bonefish. At the junction you can hardly fail to see the large, time-worn notice for “Different of Abaco“, the former fishing lodge owned by Nettica Symonette. It has been defunct for many years. The lodge buildings are sadly dilapidated and *safety alert* the wooden boards are frail. The grounds are romantically overgrown, and dotted with half-concealed derelict vehicles and machinery rusting away benignly as the seasons pass. The large ponds that must have once been attractive are brackish and uninviting. But guess what! The place is a haven for birds.

Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The most surprising sight is of peafowl – the collective name for peacocks, peahens and peachicks. This flamboyant species was introduced many years ago as a decorative addition to the Lodge and its grounds. It was part of a wider, more ambitious scheme to reintroduce a breeding flock of flamingoes to Abaco. These had regrettably become extirpated from the island and then, as now, were only found as vagrant individuals. The attempt sadly failed and the flamingoes disappeared. Rumours sometimes surface of breeding pairs far out on the Marls or in a secluded place in the far south of the island, but these remain unsubstantiated. The peafowl introduction, however, has proved to be an unexpected success.

Peacock, with bizarre graffiti addressed to Santa ClausFeral Peacock, Casuarina, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Peahen in the garden of “Different of Abaco”Peahen, Casuarina, Abaco (Sally Salvesen)

Peacocks swaggering in the grounds: note the fully feathered tails (cf photo #2  above)Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 1Peacock, Abaco (Nina Henry) 3

The compilation of “THE BIRDS OF ABACO” involved plenty of decision-making. We obviously couldn’t feature every recorded species – for a start, for many species there were merely reports of sightings but no (or only inadequate) photographs. One interesting factor for consideration was the stage at which an introduced species becomes bird OF Abaco as opposed to a non-indigenous bird that happens to be IN Abaco.

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Rhonda Pearce’s Peafowl Gallery (NB peachicks included!) above demonstrates why this species was an easy choice for inclusion. On the assumption that the original birds were brought to the Lodge in the late ’80s or early ’90s, the chicks you see here must be several generations down the line. A breeding population has been established in the wild, as the grounds of D of A have become. The evidence is that it is spreading slowly – across the road, further into the settlement at Casuarina and recently even further afield.

Celia Rogers photographed this cluster of peahens in Casuarina – but the two males were on the road to Cherokee, maybe 3 or 4 miles distance to the north as the peacock struts

Peahens, Casuarina (Celia Rogers)Peacocks (Cherokee Road)  Abaco (Celia Rogers)

So that’s how the feral peacocks of Abaco come to be classified (in a purely unofficial way) as birds OF Abaco for the purposes of the book**. Once they would have been viewed as pets – like the muscovy ducks that can be found in a few places, Gilpin Point for example. But in the wilderness that Different of Abaco has become for many years, the descendants of the original peacocks are breeding contentedly, expanding their population, and are wholly unreliant on human intervention. Verily feral, in fact.

**That, and the fact that Mrs RH borrowed my camera and undeniably took the best photos of the male and female birds (#1 and #4 above), as seen on pp 70-71 of the book…

Peacock, Abaco (Liann Key Kaighin) 1

D of A: the glory daysimg0049

Credits: Mrs RH (1, 4); RH (2, 3); Nina Henry (5, 6); Rhonda Pearce (7 – 11); Celia Rogers (12, 13); Liann Key Kaighin (14); added final image π “The Abacos” online

NETTICA (‘NETTIE’) SYMONETTE’S ABACO BONEFISHING LEGACY


NETTICA (‘NETTIE’) SYMONETTE’S ABACO BONEFISHING LEGACY

As a companion-piece to the previous post about Abaco bonefishing, I’ve made a short movie of the final stage of the skiff trip after a day out on the Marls back to Nettie’s Point and the skiff launching / landing ground there. It’s always a interesting ride, and I took the footage just for the fun of it. At very high tide, the channel can (must?) be taken at speed, and end with an 007 flourish. When the tide is low, however, it can be slow progress with the propeller precariously close to the rock for much of the channel’s length… Small crabs scuttle for cover in limestone holes as you pass, and you can see clearly what a huge amount of rock had to be cleared out.

Approaching the mouth of the channel at high tide, with rock spoil on both sides

Then I got to thinking about the originator of this canal cut through rock from the firm ground of the pine forest through to the open sea. ‘Nettie’s’ is named after Nettica Symonette, Eleutheran-born owner of ‘Different of Abaco’, the now defunct bonefishing lodge on the road off the main highway to Casuarina. She was clearly a striking figure – tall, strong-minded, and a passionate promoter of out-island tourism. She must have had plenty of insight into the importance of the natural resources that might make Abaco attractive to visitors, for she was not just a bonefishing pioneer, but also a wildlife enthusiast.

Flamingos and chicks on Inagua, 2012 (photo credit: Melissa Maura)

Nettie attempted to reintroduce flamingos to Abaco as breeding birds (there had been none breeding on Abaco for some 50 years). That involved the relocation of a number of juvenile birds from the National Park on Inagua (see FLAMINGO POST). They were flown to Abaco and resettled in the Casuarina area with their wings clipped. This was 15 – 20 years ago, and I don’t know if there was any successful breeding. I believe further birds were brought over, but for some reason the hoped-for breeding colony did not become established. It’s possible that there were problems with predation, as with the Abaco parrots.

Unhitching a skiff into the boat basin at high tide

Nettie’s lasting legacy is the construction of the canal cut through to the mangrove swamps and the ocean, and the ‘boat basin’ that allows safe launch and return for skiffs. This made possible what must have been very difficult given the geology of the terrain – easy boat access to the prolific fishing grounds over the vast area of mangroves and the labyrinthine water channels that is the Marls. It’s worth the comment that the whole project is entirely natural – it involves no man-made materials of any description. Contrast this with what might have been: concrete, iron, steel, wood – maybe a bit of plastic trim to round it off…

The first skiff sets off for the day…

I don’t know (perhaps someone can help via the comment box or email me) when and how this was done or how long it took, But when you watch the video as it follows the channel’s full length, you will see the rock spoil and appreciate the feat – and the vision – involved. And in places you can also see the shelving rock below the waterline that makes steering a steady central course advisable…

Aha! More arcane music from the Rolling Harbour archive, I hear you say. The music is Preston Reed’s ‘Along the Perimeter’ from ‘Handwritten Notes’ – an astonishing guitarist with a two-handed playing technique that also involves hitting and slapping various areas of the guitar (saves the cost of a drummer). He uses experimental open tunings that are found in no ‘How to play guitar nicely’ manuals. And if you like this, try Erik Mongrain who is simply astounding. Almost a trick guitarist. But I digress…