PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2021


Wilson’s Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Craig Nash)

As so often I have missed by 2 days a crucial ‘International Day of the… Whatever’. This time we are celebrating plovers. This group of little shorebirds is appreciated every September 16, and they are high up in my favourites list. Here are examples of the 6 species that you will find on Abaco. Of these, most significant are the piping plovers that chose Abaco beaches – more than 1000 miles from their home beaches in the north – as their migration destination for overwintering (in fact, they start to arrive from the end of July and have left by mid- March).

PLOVER GALLERY

PIPING PLOVER

Piping Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Sally Chisholm)
Piping Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Sally Chisholm)

WILSON’S PLOVER

Wilson’s Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Nina Henry)
Wilson’s Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Chris Johnson)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER

Black-bellied Plover (winter plumage) . Abaco . Bahamas (π Tom Sheley)

SEMIPALMATED PLOVER

Semipalmated Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Alex Hughes)

KILLDEER

Killdeer . Abaco . Bahamas (π Bruce Hallett)

AMERICAN GOLDEN PLOVER

American Golden Plover . Abaco . Bahamas (π Alex Hughes)

PIPING PLOVERS

These rare little birds were the subject of a 5-year citizen science project on Abaco involving tracking banded birds sighted on Abaco beaches and tracing their origins to their home beach where the birds had hatched and and fledged. Much remarkable data was recorded, not least that many of the birds made the same journey from their home beach to Abaco and back in the spring 2, 3 and even 4 years running. Each time and at each end of the migration, they chose the same beach. Often the dates almost matched as well. You can find out more HERE

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE


Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (©Tom Sheley)

Olive-capped Warbler (resident species), Abaco Bahamas (©Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE

IT’S STARTED The great winter migration of warblers and their imminent arrival in The Bahamas is underway. Any day now – if not already – the ‘winter’ (in fact autumn & early spring as well) warblers will be arriving on Abaco. There are 38 warbler species recorded for the main island and the cays. For years, it was just 37. Then in 2018 a CANADA WARBLER was seen and photographed by well-known Bahamas birder Chris Johnson. It was a first for Abaco – and the first-ever report for the Bahamas as well. You’ll find the story HERE.
This article is updated from an earlier one written pre-Dorian and the situation will undoubtedly be different now, especially with the transients and rare species. Consider it as a historical record of the prolific warbler species recorded for Abaco and more generally the northern Bahamas before the hurricane struck. The 5 permanent resident warbler are still resident. Many migrants and possibly all transients have sadly not been recorded since, and the rarest perhaps never will be. The hope must be that at least the most common winter warblers will continue to arrive, and in increasing numbers.Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

First-ever Canada Warbler for Abaco & the entire Bahamas: Aug 2018 (Chris Johnson)

Canada Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (1st record) (Chris Johnson) Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy
Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)

The guide divides the original 37 species (excluding the Canada warbler) into categories, with a code for each bird to show:
  • Resident status – permanent / breeding, migratory or transient
  • Frequency – likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe recorded only once or twice since c1950 when recording began)
Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Numerically, the division breaks down into 3 categories of warbler:
  • 5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are ENDEMIC
  • 21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to extreme rarities like the very vulnerable Kirtland’s Warbler that needs a specific winter habitat that Abaco can provide 
  • 11 transients, most of which you will be very lucky to encounter
Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible both (1) male and (2) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.
Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S WARBLERS

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

5 PERMANENT RESIDENTS

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Warbler - endemic Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler, sunrise, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Shelley)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

WINTER RESIDENTS  (COMMON)

OVENBIRD Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1 

OVENBIRD_Bahamas-Great Abaco_6639_Ovenbird_Gerlinde Taurer 2

WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2 

Worm-eating Warbler.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH  Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1 

BAHAMAS - Northern Waterthrush - Oct 2010 Becky Marvil

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER Mniotilta varia WR 2 

Black & White Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas WR 1 

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copy

AMERICAN REDSTART  Setophaga ruticilla WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6334_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

CAPE MAY WARBLER Setophaga tigrina WR 1 

Cape May Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana WR 1 

Northern Parula, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Setophaga caerulescens WR 2 

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PALM WARBLER  Setophaga palmarum WR 1 

Palm Warbler, Abaco - Peter Mantle

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Setophaga coronata WR 2 

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco - Keith Salvesen (RH)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Setophaga dominica WR 1 

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PRAIRIE WARBLER Setophaga discolor WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6609_Prairie Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy 2

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

 WINTER RESIDENTS  (UNCOMMON TO RARE)

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH Parkesia motacilla WR 3 

Louisiana waterthrush William H. Majoros WIKI

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3

Blue-winged Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

Blue-winged Warbler. talainsphotographyblog

SWAINSON’S WARBLER  Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4 

Swainson's Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NASHVILLE WARBLER Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4 

Nashville Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

HOODED WARBLER Setophaga citrina WR 3 

Hooded Warbler, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLER Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4 

Kirtland's Warbler (m), Abaco - Woody Bracey

MAGNOLIA WARBLER Setophaga magnolia WR 3 

Magnolia warbler, Abaco - Craig Nash

BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER Setophaga virens WR 3 

Black-throated Green Warbler - talainsphotographyblog

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

TRANSIENTS

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER Protonotaria citrea TR 3 

Prothonotary Warbler, Abaco - Ann Capling

TENNESSEE WARBLER Oreothlypis peregrina TR 4 

Tennessee Warbler Jerry Oldenettel Wiki

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER  Oreothlypis celata TR 4 

Orange-crowned Warbler dominic sherony wiki

CONNECTICUT WARBLER Oporonis agilis TR 4 

Connecticut Warbler Central Park NYC 10000birds.com

KENTUCKY WARBLER Geothlypis formosa TR 4 

Kentucky_Warbler Steve Maslowski wiki - Version 2

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER Setophaga castanea TR 4 

Bay-breated warbler MDF Wiki

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER Setophaga fusca TR 4

Blackburnian Warbler Mdf wiki

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER Setophaga pensylvanica TR 4

Chestnut-sided Warbler talainsphotographyblog - Version 2

BLACKPOLL WARBLER Setophaga striata TR 3 

Blackpoll Warbler avibirds.com

WILSON’S WARBLER Cardellina pusilla TR 4 

Wilson's Warbler Michael Woodruff wiki

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT Icteria virens TR 4 

Yellow-breasted Chat Emily Willoughby wiki

PHOTO CREDITS (1 – 37) Bruce Hallett (Header, 3, 9, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22); Tom Reed (1, 4); Cornell Lab (2); Tom Sheley (7, 10); Alex Hughes (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 11, 18);  Becky Marvil (8, 20a); Woody Bracey (13, 24); Peter Mantle (15); Keith Salvesen (16); William H. Majoros wiki (19); talainsphotographyblog (20b, 26, 34); Charmaine Albury (23); Craig Nash (25); Ann Capling (27); Jerry Oldenettel wiki (28); Dominic Sherony wiki (29); 10000birds (30); Steve Maslowski wiki (31);  MDF wiki (32, 33); Avibirds (35); Michael Woodruff wiki (36); Emily Willoughby wiki (37)

CHECKLIST based on the complete checklist and codes for Abaco devised by Tony White with Woody Bracey for “THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” by Keith Salvesen

THE DITZY CHICKS & THE BEACH BYRDS: BANDS TO ADMIRE


Piping Plover Chick Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial)

‘KEITH’

‘THE DITZY CHICKS’ & ‘THE BEACH BYRDS’: BANDS TO ADMIRE

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY  – PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION

Piping plovers are rare, tiny, unutterably cute, weigh about 2oz – and every Fall they fly south 1000 miles or more to warmer climes. Abaco is one such clime. The data collected during the 4 years of the ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH project shows annual counts of ±250 individual birds found either in flocks in specific hotspots, or more randomly in small groups, pairs or singles. Certain areas on the Cays are also popular. Of all these, around 10% have been banded in their breeding grounds, almost always as chicks – many with in a day or two of hatching.

Piping Plover Chick Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial)

‘CHEROKEE’

SQUID’S KIDS

To set the scene (the story is developed below). The 3 tiny chicks with the ring bling in the large photos hatched at a Wildlife Refuge in New Jersey about 10 days ago. Their parents are Squid and Sophie. The scientists who captured, weighed, measured and banded them also named them, for reasons which will become apparent, Keith, Cherokee and Abaco. This post aims to explain the background story, and in particular the great significance of banding as a tool of research into rare species.

At the outset – and because a few people express concern –  I’d better add that no deleterious effects arise from banding. The bands are not constricting, and the birds are unaware of them. Individual banded birds are often seen year after year at either end of their migration or at both; and sometimes during stopovers along the way:  they have all survived being banded, Also, if the scientists and conservationists were to take risks with the chicks in their care by using inappropriate methods, they would in fact be damaging or destroying the very creatures they have dedicated their skills to preserving.


Piping Plover Chick

WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THIS SPECIES?

PIPL are not just rare, they are IUCN Red-listed as ‘near-threatened’. Last Autumn the IUCN estimate for adult birds was 8000 (now, in 2021, a greater number). The summer breeding grounds are located in quite specific areas of North America and Canada.

These vulnerable little shorebirds nest in scrapes on the beaches and forage on the shoreline. They face many dangers including predation (eg gulls, cats, foxes), human activities and disturbance (eg the inalienable right to use beaches for off-road fun), and habitat degradation (eg. development, encroachment, and pollution). This last is the greatest problem of the three, and it is of course the responsibility – or fault – of humans. Fortunately, the establishment of extensive coastal / shoreline wildlife refuges has provided managed habitat and careful protection in some areas.

Piping Plover Chick Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial)

‘ABACO’

WHERE DOES BANDING COME INTO ALL THIS?

For the purposes of the ongoing scientific investigation and conservation research, the wildlife organisations in each area carry out programs to examine, measure, weigh and band birds on their ‘home’ beach. This process builds a database year on year against which the health of the birds and also the habitat can be measured. 

       

Banding enables individuals to be identified and observed in the breeding grounds; and crucially, where the birds overwinter (see below). Birds are given flags or bands or both in unique combinations. These may be put on one or both legs; mostly they will be on the upper leg(s), but sometimes the lower legs are also used; unique alphanumerics or coloured dots provide further means of ID. Some locations have a tradition of naming the chicks during banding. Thus one Abaco bird ‘Green Flag AH3’ became ‘Atari’ . Felicia Fancybottom is the most exotic name so far (she had a random posterior-feather sticking out when banded).

On Abaco, we sometimes give unnamed overwintering banded birds an ID to avoid confusion, for easy reference, or actually just for fun. For example Green Flag 70E became (obviously) ‘Joe’.

Piping Plover Banding Box (Steph Egger)

Bander’s Box

Piping Plover Chick NJ (Kim / CWFNJ)

HOW THE SYSTEM WORKS IN PRACTICE

MANY HAPPY RETURNS FOR ‘SQUID’

January 2, 2018 a female bird called ‘SQUID’ was resighted on Abaco at Casuarina. Her bands were: upper left, blue on black; upper right, green on red (photo below). Checks of the band combination produced the following information:

  • originated from the Holgate unit of Edwin B. Forsythe NWR in NJ, banded there as a female
  • monitored and researched by Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ
  • recorded at the same location the previous summer so had already completed Fall and Spring migration, returning to the same beach where she hatched and fledged.
  • named for the bander’s mom’s cat

Piping Plover, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

‘SQUID’

July 29 2018 SQUID was resighted for the second year at the same location on Casuarina flats, Abaco, the first banded bird of the season. She was also the last to leave, in mid-March – a stay of of around 8 months. During that time, APPW beach monitor Keith Kemp saw Squid on several occasions, all in the immediate area of Cherokee Sound (of which Casuarina is a part).

LATE MAY / EARLY JUNE 2019 Resighted for the third season at EBF, and nested with male (as it has turned out) called Sophia! Sexing tiny newly hatched chicks is not an exact science. Originally there were 4 eggs, but on June 2 only 3 chicks hatched – ‘nature’ had intervened with the 4th. They were named ABACO, CHEROKEE… and KEITH (a kindly nod both to monitor Keith Kemp and perhaps to me as well). The chicks were captured by Michelle Stantial of SUNY, in conjunction with CWFNJ, to be banded, weighed, and measured so they can be monitored and assessed for growth, beach activity, and protection purposes. In a couple of months these chicks will themselves feel the urge to fly south, and will continue the annual PIPL migration cycle.

Piping Plover Chick Banding, Holgate NJ (Michelle Stantial / Todd Pover)

Squid being banded by Michelle Stantial in July 2017

 WHAT HAS THE RESEARCH REVEALED SO FAR – AND IS IT USEFUL?

SQUID is an excellent example of conservation, research, and science (both pro and citizen) in action. From his story we can conclude the following:

  • Squid has been on the same summer beach in NJ for 3 years running
  • She has also overwintered for 2 years running in the same location on Abaco
  • So she has flown 4 migrations of c1000 miles with extraordinary location accuracy
  • This is a prime example of ‘beach loyalty’, a vital ingredient for species conservation
  • At 2 oz, she is a doughty and determined survivor of all the dangers arising from such long journeys
  • The habitats at both ends of the migration are good and safe, without notable degradation 
  • The nesting success with A, C and K adds 3 more birds to the population, if they all fledge and survive
  • There is every chance that Squid will be seen on Abaco this Fall
  • There is some chance that at least one of the chicks will turn up on Abaco too; or in the Bahamas anyway

Piping Plover Chick, LBI (Northside Jim)

This story is one example of many similar ones that occur every season. One plover, Bahama Mama from Michigan, has spent the last 5 winters on the same Abaco shoreline. Overall, there is optimism that the conservation measures in place will prevent the decline and encourage the increase of the species. There’s a lot of dedication that goes into all this. I think it can be fairly said that the story of Squid and Sophia’s little family is a both reward for that dedication, and a sign of hope for the future.

NOT THE DITZY CHICKS!

Credits: Michelle Stantial / SUNY; Todd Pover / CWFNJ; Holgate Unit EBF NWR; Stephanie Egger (now with NOAA); photos from Keith Kemp, Kim / CWFNJ, ‘Northside’ Jim Verhagen LBI

Piping Plover Chick, LBI (Northside Jim)

Goodbye, and well done for sticking it out to the end

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER . ABACO . BAHAMAS


WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris

West Indian Woodpecker . Abaco . Bahamas (π Keith Salvesen)

The WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris is one of Abaco’s specialist birds. Islanders and regular visitors will be familiar with the sight – and indeed the raucous sound – of these beautiful birds. They are commonly found throughout Abaco and the cays. Possibly their rarity across the wider Bahamas is underestimated. The only other island where these birds are found is San Salvador. Formerly resident on Grand Bahama, they are believed to be extirpated there. Abaco is very fortunate to enjoy their noisy company.

SANDERLINGS ON THE BEACH . ABACO . BAHAMAS


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SANDERLINGS ON THE BEACH . ABACO . BAHAMAS

These little birds are far from rare, but watching a flock of them scuttling back and forth on the sand, in and out of the tide, is always a treat. And as you will notice, when they are foraging in earnest they not only stick their bills into the sand right up to the base… they go for total immersion of the head!

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour Abaco

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAIL . ABACO . BAHAMAS


BAHAMA DUCKAnas bahamensis

Photos taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, a major contributor to “Birds of Abaco”

YELLOW WARBLERS on ABACO BAHAMAS


YELLOW WARBLER (female) Setophaga petechia

Photos taken on Abaco by Gerlinde Taurer, a major contributor to “Birds of Abaco”

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: STEP AWAY FROM THIS INSECT


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

SPIDER WASPS  & TARANTULA HAWKS (PEPSIS WASPS)

I learn today that this week is Insect Week (or, as it may prefer, The International Week for Insect Appreciation and Protection). I’m all for it. There are annual Days for almost any creature you can think of – Warthogs; Fruit Bats; Porcupine Fish, and so on. There are few whole Weeks devoted to an entire taxonomic class. Here is an insect I wrote about several years ago. It’s an aggressive-looking creature that I found in the coppice on South Abaco. I could only get a partial shot of the insect, and I wondered whether to try to reach it and get a more complete shot. Perhaps I could have, but very fortunately for for me (as I later found out) I didn’t touch it.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

This creature turned out to be a Spider Wasp (aka Pepsis Wasp), of the Pompilidae family. The insect is familiarly known as a Tarantula Hawk, for reasons given in unsparing detail below. For it turns out that this creature would be the hardest bastard insect on Planet Bastard in the Galaxy Bastardium. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - TheCrotalusfreak

It’s lucky that I didn’t try to try to collect it to keep in a small box as a pet.  Note, for start, the scary eating apparatus… and it’s not for nibbling leaves as I had thought, but chopping up small insects. The leg claws and barbs are for pinning down its prey. You would not believe how unpleasant these little buddies are –  and that’s before we even mention the sting…

SPIDER WASPS IN ACTION

These wasps are known in some countries as “horse-killers”. The Pepsis wasp is a sub-species, and is called Tarantula Hawk because it hunts tarantulas and uses them in a most ingenious and cruel way… NB the BNT have rightly pointed out that these insects are unaggressive to humans. If you leave them alone, they will spare you. I’ve also read that “The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation” Now read on to see if it might be sensible to provoke one or not.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - astrobradley

SCARY CRITTERS & LIVING LARDERS

(Trigger Warning: this is really rather gross)

SPIDER WASPS are ‘solitary’ insects that feed on ground spiders / tarantulas by stinging them to paralyse them, then eating them. In the most sinister way, the females also make use of spiders for breeding purposes. Hear this! They build a nest in a burrow, find a spider (a tarantula for choice), paralyse it with their sting, drag it to the nest and lay a single egg on its abdomen. Then they seal up the burrow. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk mshandro

When the egg hatches, the larva chews a hole on the spider’s abdomen and enters a living larder. It gradually eat its host as it grows. The spider’s vital organs are left till last, so that the spider stays alive as long as possible until the larva has reached full-size. After several weeks, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates (often over winter). Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, bursts Alien-like from the spider’s abdomen (deftly evading Ripley), and tunnels out of the burrow… 

Do NOT try this at home or more than 10 yards from a medical centre Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk _ Paul Nylander

SPIDER WASPS: MORE FEARFUL FACTS

  • Their hunting improves with experience – the more spiders they eat, the quicker they find, attack & kill them
  • Males use ‘perch territories’ to scan for receptive females from a tall plant or other vantage point, a behaviour known as HILL-TOPPING
  • Adult wasps also feed on a variety of plants for nectar & pollen. They may become intoxicated on fermented fruit, which affects their ability to get around (I think we’ve all been there at some time…)
  • The female Pepsis gets her spider in two main ways: approaching a tarantula causing it to rear up defensively on its legs, thus exposing its abdomen to the sting or
  • She locates a tarantula’s burrow, using her sense of smell. She tricks the spider into emerging by tweaking the web at the burrow’s entrance or ‘intruding’ (see video below)
  • The wasp uses her long stinger to stab her prey. The poison rapidly paralyses the spider. She then drags it to her burrow, lays her egg onto the tarantula’s abdomen, seals the burrow and leaves. Job done
  • The hooked claws and barbs on the wasps’ long legs are weapons for grappling with victims
  • The stinger of a female tarantula hawk can be up to 7 mm (1/3 inch) long – and the sting is among the most painful insect stings in the world (see below)
  • Only the females sting (males may pretend to) because the stinger is linked to the ovipositor (egg-laying organ)
  • You can distinguish females from males by the curled antennae of the female. Mine was therefore female
  • The Pepsis wasp has (unsurprisingly) very few predators, though apparently roadrunners and bullfrogs may tackle them

Here is a hypnotically fascinating 3-minute video of the life-or-death struggle

SPIDER WASP  –v-  TARANTULA 

THE STING

The sting of these wasps is among the most painful of any insect, though the most intense pain lasts on a few minutes. Entomologist Justin Schmidt bravely submitted himself to the stings of various insects and described this pain as “…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.” 

Schmidt produced his SCHMIDT STING PAIN INDEX The pain scale, based on 78 species, runs from 0 to 4, with 4 awarded for the most intense pain. Spider Wasps of the species Pepsis – i.e. Tarantula Hawks – have a sting rating of 4.0, described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath” Only the bite of the Bullet Ant – and the sting of the Warrior Wasp – is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described as pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

LIGHT RELIEF AFTER THE PAIN

1. In 1989, New Mexico chose the Tarantula hawk wasp as the official state insect. The choice seems to have been left to schoolchildren and I’m guessing here (or gender-stereotyping) but I suspect it was the boys’ choice that won…

2. Tarantula Hawk is a “psychedelic progressive metal band” from San Diego, Ca. Their short discography includes their debut Tarantula Hawk (CD/LP, 1998); Burrow (Live CD, 2000, self-released); and Untitled. The cover of their debut provides the perfect ending for this post, vividly depicting the colour and texture of the swirling fiery pain you could experience (and I don’t really mean from listening to the music…) 

UNDOUBTEDLY PAINFUL EXPERIENCE

ARGUABLY PAINFUL STING

Mr Gordon Sumner

AN ENJOYABLE STING

Credits:  Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1, 2, 7); TheCrotalusfreak (video clip) (3);  astrobradley (4);  mshandro (5); Paul Nylander (6)


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

ABACO PARROTS for WORLD PARROT DAY


A small tribute, in gallery form, to the unique ground-nesting Abaco Parrots. Brought back from the brink of extinction through care, skill and patience. Surviving forest fires, hurricanes, predators, incautious humans. Sweeping across the sky in raucous flocks. Squawking deafeningly in the gumbo limbo trees. Lighting up the sky with flashing green, red and blue. Noisy ambassadors for Abaco wildlife. Generally being fabulous creatures loved by everyone.

An additional treat is the inclusion of a few of parrot scientist Caroline Stahala’s wonderful photos of parrot nests in the limestone caves deep in the Abaco National Park, taken while she was researching and protecting them. In the past, I felt very privileged to be able to use them and it’s been a while since I featured any. Very few people will have seen anything like this, so today is a very good occasion to show nests, eggs and chicks.

Photographs by Nina Henry, Melissa Maura, Craig Nash, Peter Mantle, Caroline Stahala, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO by KEITH SALVESEN – a few copies now available


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

BIRDS OF ABACO was launched at the Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas in March 2014. I thought all copies had been sold or donated ages ago. In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, a number of Abaconians asked if I could replace their ruined copies. Sadly I could not. Or so I thought. A current blitz to clear our house (40 years-worth of stuff) has unearthed 2 boxes of the book, so I have decided to sell them. Scroll to the end for further details. First, though, check out these birds… Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a The originator of the idea for the book – as with the entire Delphi Club project – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. He took a risk based on my (then) quite feeble Rolling Harbour blog about the birds and other attractions of the island. The 2kg book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) As part of the project, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations were given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits was given to local wildlife causes. We quickly sold a great many copies,  and couldn’t have been more pleased with the response to the book, a unique publication for the Bahamas. The captions (below) about the book and content were written much nearer the time, so I’ll leave them as they are. I hope you enjoy the photos even if you don’t want a copy! Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. 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 seed trails 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, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • 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 has been presented to every school and library on Abaco
Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club. The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art and architecture 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 were the chances?

BOOK LAUNCH BAHAMAS BIRDING ROYALTY (Tony White, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey), A COMMONER… & AN EMBARRASSING AMOUNT OF REFRESHMENT 

Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

BOOK SALE DETAILS 2021
I am pricing the books at $120 inc. shipping. They are in England, heavy, and expensive to post. 1/3 of the price will be the flight of the birds across the Atlantic. If you would like a copy and do not already have my contact details, email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
American Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Photos: Tom Sheley (3,4,9,10),  Bruce Hallett (6,8), Gerlinde Taurer (1,7), Tony Hepburn (5), Keith Salvesen (2,11)

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

THE ORIGINAL FLYER

"Birds of Abaco" flyer

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS


Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous are small marine gastropod molluscs related to cowries. The living animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the so-called ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale, and characterised by a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THE IMPORTANCE OF CORAL

Flamingo tongue snails feed by browsing on soft corals. Often, they will leave tracks behind them on the coral stems as they forage (see image below). But corals are not only food – they provide the ideal sites for the creature’s breeding cycle.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Dive Abaco, Bahamas)Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

The principal purpose of the patterned mantle of tissue over the shell is to act as the creature’s breathing apparatus. The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As it has been (unkindly?) described, the mantle is “basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THREATS AND DEFENCE

The species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include hogfish, pufferfish and spiny lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins, and instead of secreting these after feeding, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many animal species.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

MANKIND’S CONTRIBUTION

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the actual shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… dead snails and “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

The photos below are of nude flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Image Credits:  Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS and BAHAMA DUCKLINGS


White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Tom Sheley)

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS and BAHAMA DUCKLINGS

The white-cheeked (‘Bahama’) pintail Anas bahamensis (aka ‘Bahama duck’) is everyone’s favourite dabbling duck. Or at least it ought to be. And when there are ducklings swimming with the adults, there is no emoticon yet devised that will convey the extremes of cuteness achieved.

White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Tom Sheley)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Tom Sheley)
White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)

Credits: all absolutely adorbs  photos are by Tom Sheley & Charles Skinner

White-cheeked Pintail / Bahama Pintail Ducklings (Charles Skinner)

BANANAQUIT (Coereba flaveola) Abaco, Bahamas


Bananaquit . Delphi . Abaco . Bahamas

Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are small, colourful, and delightful birds of the coppice and garden. They have also managed to generate one of the most complicated taxonomic conundrums in the whole of bird land. I’ll spare you the varied classification details, which include warbler, bunting, tanager, monotype (unique), and the uncomfortably vague incertae sedis (= ‘uncertain group‘).

Bananaquit . Abaco . Bahamas . Yellow elder (National Flower)

Luckily, they are oblivious to all this controversy. Whatever their family background, Bananaquits will always be one of the most appealing small birds you’ll ever encounter. They are certainly high in the rankings of my own generalised designation ‘pretty little bird’ (Avis bellusparvus)

Photos: 1. Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour; 2 & 3 Craig Nash

Bananaquit . Abaco . Bahamas

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS . ABACO BAHAMAS


Atlantic Spotted Dolphins . Abaco Bahamas . BMMRO

ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHINS – ABACO, BAHAMAS

There’s never ever a wrong time for dolphins to have some fun in the water. It’s what they expect. It’s what we (if we are lucky enough to see them) expect. It’s what they expect that we expect if we are out in a boat – hence the joyful bow-riding, the rapid crossing back and forth. From time to time there’s a single dolphin in a group that takes the opportunity to show off. In the deeper water off the southern tip of Abaco, in sight of the lighthouse, this is a good example of such carefree behaviour.

There’s more excitement to be found in this group. If you look carefully at #3 in the gallery, you’ll see a very small dorsal fin. There’s a calf in the group, being guided and watched over by two adults. Imagine being out there in a boat and encountering this group. That would in itself be something to show off about…

Atlantic Spotted Dolphins . Abaco Bahamas . @BMMRO
Atlantic Spotted Dolphins . Abaco Bahamas . BMMRO

All photos © Charlotte Dunn / Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). Please support the work of this specialist Bahamas marine mammal research team and help to preserve these increasingly vulnerable creatures LINK

BAHAMA WARBLERS ON ABACO


Bahama Warbler . Abaco . Bahamas

 BAHAMA WARBLERS ON ABACO

The Bahama warbler Setophaga flavescens is a significant species in the Bahamas, not least because of their very confined range. These are speciality birds on Abaco, taking their place alongside just 4 other year-round resident warblers. In contrast, there are 33 recorded migratory or transient warbler species which begin to arrive in early spring and are mostly gone by October.

Bahama Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

SPECIAL STATUS

  • Found only on Abaco and Grand Bahama
  • One of only 5 bird species endemic to the Bahamas
  • One of only 2 endemic warbler species on Abaco (with the BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT)
  • One of only 5 permanent year-round resident warblers (33 others are migratory), the other 3 being the OLIVE-CAPPED, YELLOW, and PINE warblers.
Bahama Warbler Range Map

Bahama Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 4); Bruce Hallett (2, 3); Range Map, Cornell

Bahama Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)
Bahama Warbler . Abaco . Bahamas

YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER


I have just been asked about image rights for a Yellow-bellied sapsucker Sphyrapicus varius featured in BIRDS OF ABACO so I have gone back to the archive. The photograph below was taken by Gerlinde Taurer, a significant contributor to the book. On Abaco the sapsucker is the only migratory woodpecker species, a fairly common winter resident. The two other woodpecker species – West Indian and Hairy – are year-round residents. Like its woodpecker cousins, the sapsucker drills holes in trees. The dual purpose is to release the sap (which it eats); and so to attract insects (which it also eats). A two-course meal, if you like. They’ll also eat insects on an undrilled tree, and even ‘hawk’ for them in flight. They sensibly balance their diet with fruit and berries. This is without doubt the best image of a YBS I have come across.

Credit: Gerlinde Taurer for Birds of Abaco

SEAHORSES: PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF


Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

SEAHORSES: PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF

It’s a while since I showcased these astonishing little creatures. Adam Rees of SCUBA WORKS is a diver who combines great underwater experience with wonderful photographic skills. Here is a showcase for some of Adam’s seahorse photography and the amazing detail he captures. If these images don’t make you want to get your head underwater and explore the reefs, I can’t think what will…

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

RANGE MAP by NAT GEO

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

shlifecycle-e1313548153493

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)
Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Seahorse by Alex Konahin

All fantastic photos: Adam Rees / Scuba Works; Range Map, Nat Geo; Lifecycle diagram, Seahorserun; Seahorse GIF, Alex Konahin

TUNICATES: SESSILE ASEXUAL SEA-SQUIRTS


Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

TUNICATES: SESSILE ASEXUAL SEA-SQUIRTS

Painted Tunicates Clavina picta are one of several species of tunicate ‘sea-squirts’ found in Bahamas and Caribbean waters. These creatures with their translucent bodies are usually found clustered together, sometimes in very large groups. One reason for this is that they are ‘sessile’, unable to move from where they have taken root on the coral.

Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

HOW DO THEY FEED?

Like most if not all sea squirts, tunicates are filter feeders. Their structure is simple, and enables them to draw water into their body cavity. In fact they have 2 openings, an ‘oral siphon’ to suck in water; and an exit called the ‘atrial siphon’. Tiny particles of food (e.g. plankton) are separated internally from the water by means of a tiny organ (‘branchial basket’) like a sieve. The water is then expelled. 

Diagram of adult solitary tunicate

Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

WHAT DOES ‘TUNICATE’ MEAN?

The creatures have a flexible protective covering referred to as a ‘tunic’. ‘Coveringcates’ didn’t really work as a name, so the tunic aspect became the name. 

Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

IF THEY CAN’T MOVE, HOW DO THEY… (erm…) REPRODUCE?

Tunicates are broadly speaking asexual. Once a colony has become attached to corals or sponges, they are able to ‘bud’, ie to produce clones to join the colony. These are like tiny tadpoles and their first task is to settle and attach themselves to something suitable – for life – using a sticky secretion. Apparently they do this head first, then in effect turn themselves upside down as they develop the internal bits and pieces they need for adult life. The colony grows because (*speculation alert*) the most obvious place for the ‘tadpoles’ to take root is presumably in the immediate area they were formed.

Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

APART FROM BEING STATIONARY & ASEXUAL, ANY OTHER ATTRIBUTES?

Some types of tunicate contain particular chemicals that are related to those used to combat some forms of cancer and a number of viruses. So they have a potential use in medical treatments, in particular in helping to repair tissue damage.

Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Credits: all fabulous close-up shots by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; diagram from depts.washington.edu; magpie pickings with a particular mention of an article by Sara MacSorley

Painted Tunicates Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

TOPICAL FISHES: WHOLLY ANGELS


The images below show the three species of angelfish commonly found among the coral reefs of the Bahamas. These were photographed by diver Melinda Riger in the waters round Grand Bahama. The Queen, French and Gray Angels are shown in both adult and juvenile forms.

Queen Angelfish
Queen Angelfish (juv.)
French Angelfish
French Angelfish (juv.)
Gray Angelfish
Gray Angelfish (juv. to adult phase)

All photos: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: SEASONAL SPIROBRANCHES


Christmas Tree Worm (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

CHRISTMAS TREE WORMS: SEASONAL SPIROBRANCHES

music-notes-clip-art-png-musicDeck the Reefs with Worms Like Christmas Trees… Fal-La-La-etc-etc ” is a traditional Carol familiar to all. Well, most. Ok, some, then. Oh right – maybe with different words? Anyway, now is the perfect time to take a look at these remarkable subsurface symbols of seasonal good cheer (nb they are wonderful animals not gorgeous plants).

christmas-tree-worm-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

10 CHRISTMAS TREE WORM FACTS TO PONDER

  • The 2 colourful spirals are not the worm, but complex structures for feeding & respiration
  • The spirals act as specialised mouth extensions for ‘filter-feeding’
  • Prey is trapped by the feathery tentacles & guided by cilia (microscopic hairs) to the mouth
  • The tentacle things are radioles and act as gills for breathing as well as prey traps
  • It is not believed that prey slide down the spiral to their doom, like on a helter-skelter

Christmas Tree Worm (Neil Hobgood Wiki)Christmas Tree Worm (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

  • The actual worm lives in a sort of segmented tube, with extremely limited mobility skills
  • It contains digestive, circulatory & nervous systems – and a brain in the middle of it all
  • The worm also has a tiny drainage tube (I think I have this right) for excretion etc
  • They embed themselves into heads of coral such as brain coral. And stay there
  • And yes, the Christmas trees are retractable… (see below for some action)

spirobranchus_giganteus_orange_christmas_tree_worm-nick-hobgood-wiki

HOW DO THE WORMS… YOU KNOW…  ERM… REPRODUCE?

This is a delicate area. They are very discreet, but as far as I can make out they eject gametes from their what-I-said-above. There are mummy and daddy worms, and their respective gametes (eggs and spermatozoa) drift in the current and into each other to complete the union. The fertilised eggs develop into larvae, which settle onto coral and burrow into it as their parents did, build their protective tubes, and the process begins again.

christmas_tree_worm-nick-hobgood-wiki

YOU DON’T REALLY UNDERSTAND THESE CREATURES, DO YOU?

I won’t lie. I found it hard to work out how the CTWs function in practice. There are plenty of resources showing them in their full glory, but that only takes one so far. Then I came across a short video that shows it all brilliantly simply (except for the reproduction part).

The worms, in their coral burrows, hoist their pairs of ‘trees’. You can easily see small particles – zooplankton – drifting in the water, and the radioles swaying to catch potential food. Suddenly it all makes sense (except the repro bit – I haven’t found footage of that).  Next: the New Year Worm (there is no Easter worm).

A WHOLE FESTIVAL OF CHRISTMAS TREE WORMSChristmas Tree Worms (Neil Hobgood Wiki)

Credits: Melinda Riger (Grand Bahama Scuba); Nick Hobgood; Betty Wills; Video by ‘Super Sea Monkey’; Reef Collage by RH; MarineBio; Wikibits & Magpie Pickings

Happy Christmas to all those who put up with RH with such fortitude over the years
blue_christmas_tree_worm-betty-wills-wiki