The Northern Parula is one of 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco. The vast majority of these species are migratory, arriving in the Fall and leaving in the Spring to fly north to the breeding grounds. When I’m back at HQ from my computer-free break, I’ll be writing more about these little birds. Meanwhile, this post is a reminder that the influx will begin very soon. The Northern Parula, with the distinctive green patch on its back, is sure to be among them.
This little chick ‘cracked out’ on the Delphi beach. As it grew, its plump little beak was already showing one of the features that distinguish the Wilson’s from other plover species. I’ll not go into further details here – I’m still in Ireland and iPhone-reliant. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking for whales and dolphins off the coast south of Kinsale. Target species: the Minke whale. Here’s hoping…
Normal service will be resumed next week.
I’m away for a few days on the Emerald Isle, leaving my trusty computer many miles away (on purpose, I mean). I’ve just got my iPhone, but writing posts and inserting images on such a small screen / keyboard is a fool’s errand. So I’ve pre-loaded a couple of beautiful bird images to post this week. Here is a wonderful red-winged blackbird male taken by photographer Tom Sheley while we were getting together some images for The Birds of Abaco deep in Abaco backcountry.
Photo credit: Tom Sheley
SPERM WHALES TAILING: ABACO, BAHAMAS
There can be very few people in the world whose breath would not be taken away by the sight of a massive sperm whale tailing close by. And as it happens, this very phenomenon can be seen in the deeper waters around the coast of Abaco. Here is a small gallery of photos of sperm whales tailing, taken from the BMMRO research vessel. There’s no point in my writing a lot of commentary to the images – they speak for themselves of the awesome (in its correct sense) power and grace of these huge mammals.
In these images, you will notice that the whales have distinctive patterns of notches and tears in their flukes (ie tail fins). As with a dolphin’s dorsal fin, these areas of damage are like fingerprints – unique to each individual, and a sure means to identification. The researchers log each sighting and assign a cypher – a whale will become known as ‘B42’ and not usually by a less scientific name like ‘Derek’ or ‘Susie’).
One of my favourite whale views is of the tail as it rises above the surface with water streaming off the flukes, before it flicks over and disappears beneath the waves.
A juvenile takes a dive alongside an adult. One day that tail will be massive…
Credits: all photos © BMMRO, with thanks as ever to Diane and Charlotte
SHARPNOSE PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (47)
It’s more than 4 years since I last wrote about these intriguing creatures and their endearing ways. It’s time for another look, with a new batch of great photos too. This is a species that lends itself to the ‘Fun Fact’ treatment, a method that tells you at least as much as you probably need – or want – to know about puffers. The message to take away is, best not to handle one – let alone eat one – unless you know exactly what you are doing…
10 PUFFER FISH FACTS TO ASTONISH YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS
1. Puffers can inflate their bodies in an instant by ingesting huge amounts of water and becoming water-filled balloons. Then their tiny spines stick out.
2. They need a startling form of defence (or ‘piscatorial superpower’ Linnaeus 1763*) like this because they can’t swim very well to escape from predators: it’s surprising and intimidating – and it also makes them hard to eat.
3. However, a persistent predator undeterred by the trick will find that the puffer contains a toxin (tetrodotoxin TTX) that is said to be ‘1,200 times stronger than cyanide’. One puffer fish has enough toxin to kill up to 30 humans (National Geographic).
4. Notwithstanding the risks, selected parts of a puffer fish are a delicacy in some cultures (known as ‘fugu’ in Japan). Specially trained chefs are used to avoid mass deaths among diners. The insurance premiums must be huge.
5. Sharks are thought to be the only species immune to the puffer fish, and are not much bothered by a small fish that can blow itself up.
6. Puffers have skin, not scales; most have toxic fins or spines of some sort, besides toxic innards. Bright coloured kinds are likely to be more toxic than their duller cousins. This warning colouration in creatures is known as aposematism.
7. It’s worth finding out what an uninflated puffer looks like before you try to pet a random passing fish and have a toxic encounter. There is as yet no known antidote.
8. In all, there are more than a hundred puffer species in the world, all found where there are warm shallow waters. At least 3 main species – sharpnose, band-tail and chequered – are found in the Bahamas.
9. Some puffer species are not toxic at all; and some – especially in Pacific waters – are far more toxic than others. That’s the region where they are treated as a delicacy.
10. I’ve checked several research papers but I can’t find an evaluation of the relative toxicity as between the Bahamas puffer species. However it’s clear that the sharpnose is certainly not one play with. Take care!
Q. SO WHAT DOES AN INFLATED PUFFER LOOK LIKE? A. THIS!
* Not really
RELATED POST: PORCUPINE FISH
Photo Credits: All puffer fish taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except for the photo of an inflated one from recent Abaco permanent resident Brian Lockwood
A HISTORIC MONUMENT TO MARITIME HISTORY: CHEROKEE, ABACO
The small and – until quite recently – remote settlement of Cherokee is said to have been founded by one Colonel Thomas Brown with his cohort of Loyalists from the Carolinas. The origin of the name has given rise to various theories, one of which stems from Col. Brown’s supposed link to Cherokee Indians.
The early settlers established themselves at this natural harbour, and life there was largely dependent on the sea. Fishing provided food, wrecking provided goods and presumably the wherewithal for trade or barter. In due course, boat building became an important part of the community, as with other places on Abaco (e.g. Man-o-War Cay). Later still, smack fishing with the locally made boats brought stability and no doubt a degree of prosperity to the community.
The monument, and in the background right, the comms tower & the new SHELL MUSEUM
The fishing smacks of Cherokee were designed to carry 5 sails rather than the usual 7 sails. Not being a sailor, I can’t tell if this was just a local stylistic choice, or for simplicity, or perhaps for a specific sea-going reason in that particular area. As a tribute to this honourable industry, in October 1988 the community of Cherokee Sound erected a fine monument near the famous LONG DOCK dedicated to the Cherokee fishermen and their smacks, and naming many of the vessels involved over many decades.
The monument also sets out the long history of smack fishing dating from the early c19 until the 1960s, by which time the advent of the diesel engine had begun to make setting the sails for fishing redundant. The moving tribute speaks to the great pride of the community in its history and its forbears.
The short poem, with the authorship shown as Anon, is in fact based on a sea-song written by a non-seafaring Scotsman called Allan Cunningham (1784- 1842), A Wet sheet and a flowing sea – said to be his best known song. The full version is given at the end, and you’ll see that the second verse (with some minor changes) is the part chosen to form the shorter tribute.
The monument also includes a panel dedicated to the fishermen of the community who lost their lives in plying their trade from 1890 onwards. It is notable that every one of them bears a family name familiar to this day on Abaco in the succeeding generations.
A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea by Alan Cunningham (1784- 1842)
A Wet sheet and a flowing sea,
A wind that follows fast
And fills the white and rustling sail
And bends the gallant mast;
And bends the gallant mast, my boys,
While like the eagle free –
Away the good ship flies, and leaves
Old England on the lee.
“O for a soft and gentle wind!”
I heard a fair one cry:
But give to me the snoring breeze
And white waves heaving high;
And white waves heaving high, my lads,
The good ship tight and free –
The world of waters is our home,
And merry men are we.
There’s tempest in yon hornèd moon,
And lightning in yon cloud:
But hark the music, mariners!
The wind is piping loud;
The wind is piping loud, my boys,
The lightning flashes free –
While the hollow oak our palace is,
Our heritage the sea.
Credits & research: Keith Salvesen, Kaderin Mills / BNT, Bahamas.com, National Geographic, Bahamas Ministry of Tourism
‘CASTING ABOUT’: A TRICOLORED HERON HUNTING
‘Casting’ is one of those words with multiple meanings, some archaic but most in use today. You can probably think of half-a-dozen straight off *. ‘Casting about’ is one of the specific usages and derives from hunting, eg hounds casting about for a scent. By extension, it has come to mean something like searching intently or thoroughly for something you need, or want, or are having difficulty in finding. Which is where this tricolored heron comes into the picture.
It’s always entertaining to watch a heron or egret fishing. Their methods range from standing stock still and suddenly stabbing downwards to slowly wading to the crazy dash that reddish egrets sometimes do on the edge of the mangroves. This one is hooding its wings, sometimes called ‘canopy feeding’. The theory is that this attracts small fish by providing shade. I also wonder if this method is used to reduce glare from the surface of the water.
The bird in this sequence is a juvenile, and not yet the lethal hunter that it will soon become. It has seen a fish moving but has temporarily lost it (fishermen will be familiar with the mild feeling of annoyance when this happens). So it is casting about, slowly zig-zagging through the water, looking from a height, crouching down, trying to get a good view of its elusive snack. I can’t say that this little episode ended in success. Sometimes, the fish you sight and then lose has gone for good. But as fishermen often say when they lose one (and by extension the phrase is now applied to other areas of human life), there are always plenty more fish in the sea.
* Even without considering Mr Weinstein and his allegedly unusual casting methods
Photo credit: Phil Lanoue, a photographer who specialises in patiently taking sequences of bird activity