Little Harbour lighthouse Abaco - Darlene Chisholm


The words ‘Abaco Lighthouse’ are near-synonymous with the splendid striped edifice on Elbow Cay. This beloved building is truly iconic, in the modern sense of the word.** But it would not do to forget the other principal lighthouse of Abaco at Hole-in-the-Wall, also with its original Fresnel lenses. The small light at Little Harbour is by contrast relatively unknown, unvisited and unloved. And derelict. Maybe that explains it. You can read in detail about this neglected relic of Abaco’s maritime history HERE


Last Spring,  friends and fellow Delphi Club members Bob & Annie Rusby and their children stayed for a while in Little Harbour. Among their adventures was a walk to the lighthouse, which is situated quite remotely on a promontory, and a decent stagger from Pete’s Pub. They took some up-to-date photos (the ones shown are in fact video stills) which supersede the ones I have previously posted. 


This small lighthouse station – “The Old Lighthouse” – was established in 1889 at the entrance to Little Harbour. Originally, it was manned, with the lighthouse keeper and his wife being (according to Sandy Estabrook) the only inhabitants of that part of Little Harbour. The light presumably served more to locate the channel to the secluded and safe harbour than to warn of reef dangers.


In due course the living quarters fell into dereliction and the existing beacon (type unknown?) on a small tower was converted to a solar-powered light. This arrangement did not survive the devastation of Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The replacement was a modern steel framework tower that carried an active light until it was blown over by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The header image shows the tumbled structure, which has never been replaced. Even the steel tower seems now (4 years later) to have gone. 


Little Harbour Lighthouse 1 jpg copyLittle Harbour Lighthouse 4 jpg

The views from the elevated position of the ruin are spectacular, both from inside the ruin (lucky keeper!) and from outside. In good weather, anyway… It remains to be seen whether light is now considered completely redundant, or whether another automatic light will in the end be positioned here when funds or willpower permit. I’m not aware of any groundswell of opinion suggesting that, in the absence of a beacon at Little Harbour, there is a potential safety issue. I’d be interested to hear any views.






Lighthouse ruins, Little Harbour Abaco - Patrick Shyu

Optional linguistic digression

** ‘Iconic’ has undergone a modern modification of its original meaning that is almost universally accepted except by extreme pedants of the type you’d want to slap. Contrast, however Alanis Morissette’s bold attempt at broadening the meaning of  ‘ironic’, which (though often followed) remains badly wrong… For example, “rain on your wedding day” is most unfortunate but not in any sense ironic. But it might be so if you had arranged at great expense to hold your nuptials in a notoriously dry place (a desert town?) during the height of the dry season…

Credits: Darlene Chisholm (header image); Bob Rusby (all main images); Patrick Shyu (last photo); Sandy Estabrook (special thanks for info re earlier post)

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society

Logo of the World Lighthouse Society




I start confidently enough by using plurals in the headline, but in truth I have only ever seen one Spanish Moth on Abaco. It was sunning itself on the wooden stairs leading up to the Delphi Club verandah. I might have trodden on it, except that I usually check out the treads for insects or curly tails (and the surrounding foliage for small birds). They like the warmth of the wood, and also moisture from overnight rain or from plant watering. I took 3 quick photos, but I was on a mission. Breakfast beckoned…


Spanish Moths (Xanthopastis timais) and their ‘Convict Caterpillars’, as they are known, are generally found in South and Central America, and in the Caribbean. There is a similar moth recorded for North America, but it is a different subspecies. However ‘our’ moth is apparently quite commonly found in Florida. 


When I tried to ID this creature, I was surprised to find how few images of it are to be found online – and of those that are, most are either strictly © or are pinned into Pinterest.** So I’m grateful to the person who uploaded these cool convict caterpillars  above to a wiki-site. They are certainly worthy of admiration, and should be easy to identify. These colourful larvae feed on the leaves and bulbs of their host plants, mainly amaryllis, iris and lily species.


I’d be really interested to hear from anyone who has seen these moths – or the caterpillars – on Abaco. Maybe they are everywhere, all the time, and I just haven’t noticed them. Or maybe it’s just that I am an occasional blow-in interloper, not a resident. Anyway, reports, observations and photos welcome (for the usual imaginary Kalik reward).


**I’m never quite sure about the status of Pinterest images. Are they reusable with (where possible) an attribution, on the basis that they have been ‘put out there’ in the public domain, as on Facebook? Or does one risk a getting stroppy comments for recycling images that pinners have themselves borrowed in the first place? 

Credits: unknown Wiki benefactor (3); R. Siegel / (4); moi (1, 2, 5)




The Fairy Basslet is a tiny brightly-coloured fish with a pretentious alternative name. It is otherwise known as the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto). These fish are found  in the coral reefs of the (sub)tropical western Atlantic. They are also found in aquariums anywhere you like, being small, bright, placid and generally good-natured.


Conveniently, the basslet is unlikely to be confused with any other species. Its striking two-tone colour scheme of purple and yellow is hard to miss. The purple front half (which is presumably where the ‘royal’ comes from, being a regal or imperial colour) may also be violet or even blue in some fish and / or in some light conditions. Another identification pointer is a black spot on the dorsal fin. 


You’ll notice that the basslet above appears to be upside down. Which is because it is – this isn’t an inadvertent photo-flip. These little fish tend to orientate themselves to be parallel with the closest surface. This leads to them happily swimming upside down, or aligning vertically. As one article I read says severely, “this behaviour is not to be mistaken for illness”.


Fairy basslets / royal grammas are also CLEANER FISH. They pick parasites and dead skin off larger fish that visit so-called cleaning stations to be attended to by tiny fish and cleaner shrimps, and in some instances to have their gills and even their teeth cleaned. The deal is that, in return, the large fish do not eat the cleaners. Even snack-sized ones rootling around inside their mouths.


I really can’t improve on this rather touching description from Wiki: “The male will build the nest among rocks using pieces of algae. The male will then lead the female to the nest, where she will deposit 20-100 eggs in the nest. During the breeding period, this behaviour is repeated almost every day for a month or longer (my italics). The eggs are equipped with small protuberances over the surface with tiny threads extending from them which hold onto the algae of the nest and keep the eggs in place. The eggs will hatch in five to seven days, normally in the evening…”



This official name became a brainworm with me after I started this post. I had to check it out. The ‘Gramma’ part is unrelated to the fond name for a grandmother; rather, it simple denotes a member of the genus of fishes in the family Grammatidae.

The Loreto part is more mysterious. It is an an ancient town in Italy; and the name of several British schools, including – almost too good to be true – a school called Loreto Grammar. In a nutshell, the link between the town and places of education is that the Sisters of Loreto, founded in the c17 and named for a shrine in the Italian village, are dedicated to education in their Ministry.

How that ties in with a tiny Caribbean reef fish, I have yet to find out. I probably never will… Here’s a short video to alleviate the disappointment.

I failed to be able to resist finding out whether any country of the world has a purple and yellow flag. The answer is, no. However I am delighted to be able to report that the flag of the Independent Party of Uruguay is basslet-coloured.



Credits: all fantastic photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; magpie pickings of an unacademic sort for facts and speculation




I’d best make it clear at the outset that, in the very narrowest sense, the buff-breasted sandpiper (Calidris subruficollis) is not strictly a new bird on Abaco. Tony White’s authoritative official checklist for Abaco, valid back to 1950 or so, does actually include the species. It is classified as a ‘V5’, which is to say a vagrant that is vanishingly rare – indeed may only have been sighted on Abaco once or perhaps twice before. Ever. The only category rarer than V5 is H for hypothetical, which essentially means that there is some unconfirmed report of a bird that it might not be outrageous to suppose might be blown onto Abaco. A penguin, therefore, would not qualify even for an H. 


A few days ago, beyond a shadow of a doubt this small shorebird was seen on Abaco by Keith Kemp, and photographed by him too. He is having an excellent year with his birding: this may well be the jewel in the crown for him. So even if one of these little guys was once spotted on an Abaco twig in 1961, Keith is definitely the first person to get a photo!

UPDATE (next day!) Abaco birder-in-Chief Woody Bracey has solved the mystery of the previous sighting – it was he himself who saw a BBSP “years ago” at the less-than-glamorous yet excellent-for-birding Marsh Harbour ‘Dump’.


As it happens, some weeks ago a BBSP was also spotted at West End, Grand Bahama by Linda Barry-Cooper. I featured a guest post from her about the fall birds in that region HERE. Woody Bracey also says that he and Bruce Hallett saw 2 BBSPs at West End early this season. Erika Gates and Martha Cartwright saw one on the GB Reef golf course at the end of August. So these birds are around in the northern Bahamas, and perhaps it’s not such a surprise after all that one should have gone on a little expedition to Abaco to check out the undeniable joys of Winding Bay.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

The buff-breasted sandpiper is a long-distance migrant, breeding mainly in the open arctic tundra of North America, and overwintering mostly in South America, especially Argentina. Its route takes it overland – the central flyway – rather than over coasts, but as it happens, as a species it is a bit of a wanderer. These birds a regularly found in Europe – including the UK – and although I am sure a sighting there must generate a great deal of excitement, they are not considered extremely rare. They have even been found, very occasionally, in South Asia and Australasia. 


So maybe it’s no surprise that the odd one turns up on Abaco. Maybe they do so every year, but only the keenest eye will spot one. And after all, there are many remote beaches on Abaco that are only very occasionally – if ever – visited by humans. Perhaps that’s where the BBSPs congregate…


In the breeding season, males collect on display grounds, or “leks,” to attract females. This helpful description comes from Audubon: “The leks are spread out, each male defending an area of up to several acres. The male displays by raising one wing, showing off the white underside. If females approach, the male spreads both wings wide, points its bill up, and shakes its body. One male may mate with several females; the male takes no part in caring for the eggs or young.” Typical, huh?



The BBSP is another bird that has been hit badly by the passage of time. By which I mean, of course, by mankind. At one time they were deemed ‘abundant’. Around 100 years ago a serious decline set in, not least because people were shooting them during their migration. Nonetheless, in 1988 the IUCN assessment was ‘lower Risk/least concern’. Then another slide began. By 2000 it was  ‘lower Risk/near threatened’. Since 2004 it has been ‘near threatened’. Why? Largely because the habitat for migrating and wintering birds has been destroyed or degraded. 


Xeno-Canto / Bernabe Lopez-Lanus

The BBSP page from the excellent Crossley ID guides (available via WikiMedia Commons)618px-buff_breasted_sandpiper_from_the_crossley_id_guide_eastern_birds

Credits: Tim Lenz, Keith Kemp, Magnus Manski, Linda Barry-Cooper, Cornell Lab (range map), Mario Porras, Crossley Guides, Bernabe Lopez-Lanus @ Xeno-Canto, Audubon, Wiki.


Hurricane Matthew (Satellite View - NASA)


Early reports and post-hurricane news for Abaco is fortunately encouraging, though I appreciate that the Island’s good fortune at the eleventh hour swerve by Matthew only meant that others came into the direct firing line. Plenty of environmental damage, of course, but in human terms the harm seems mercifully light.

Hurricane Matthew (Satellite View - NASA / ISS)

It’s too early to determine the impact on the wildlife of Abaco. The migratory winter birds must be wondering why they bothered this year. Land birds are obviously put at risk by the trashing of their habitat in the violent winds. Shore birds, too, are vulnerable: some beaches on Abaco are open to big tidal surges in high winds. Massive waves have smashed their way up the beach at Delphi. Long Beach, where the largest concentrations of piping plovers congregate at certain times, is also very exposed to surges. 100616nassaubahamashurricanematthewnbc6 1541819_630x354

Time will tell how the birds have fared. Meanwhile, here are some cheerful pictures – some of my favourite species – to relieve the gloom.

Abaco Parrot (Peter Mantle)

Western Spindalis, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom SheleyCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bahama Woodstar male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley



‘BRYTER LAYTER’ was the second album by a ‘troubled genius’, the supremely talented but sadly doomed Nick Drake. Released in 1971, it failed to convert the ripples caused by his debut ‘Five Leaves Left’ (1969) into a deserved wave of popularity, not least because Drake was already starting his gradual retreat from live performance, from social contact, and indeed from life. Here’s the title track, a pastoral instrumental with orchestral embellishments, and (unusually) without Drake’s distinctive, wistful voice. 

Credits: NASA / ISS, News open sources, Peter Mantle, Keith Salvesen, Bruce Hallett, Tom Shelley



Hurricane Matthew, NASA aerial view


As Hurricane Matthew sweeps northwards, with Abaco in its path for the hit tomorrow, it’s an opportunity to take a look at the power and might of extreme weather, and maybe to recalibrate the word ‘awesome’ from its current diluted usage. The images used all relate to the state of play in the last 24 hours.

Hurricane Matthew_satellite view (NASA)

Satellite view at 14.00 EDThurricane-matthew-satellite-clip-wunderground

The concept of ‘awe’, historically and Biblically, comprised emotions such as wonderment, astonishment, terror and dread. Biblical translations use ‘awe’ and ‘awesome’ almost exclusively to refer to God or to His Works. In many Biblical instances of people being awed, they not only experience extremes of emotion but also exhibit palpable signs of fear – shaking, cowering, falling down, prostrating themselves.

Aerial view of Hurricane Matthew from the International Space Station, October 4hurricane-matthew- aerial view (ISS/ NASA)

The perfect example of the ‘proper’ meaning of awesome can be found in Genesis: ‘He (Jacob) was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”‘ Some translations use the word ‘dreadful’ in place of ‘awesome’ for this passage – in its old meaning of ‘full of dread’, not its watered down modern meaning as in ‘dreadful headache’ or ‘dreadful nuisance’ (the same dilution that has happened to ‘terrible’).

Hurricane Matthew Tracking Path (Wunderground)


In 1980 a man called Dr Robert Plutchik designed a ‘diagram of emotions’ in a floral wheel format. This device visualised eight basic emotions, with eight derivative emotions each composed of two basic ones. Awe is at 4.00 o’clock, showing the extreme of the Biblical meaning as a mixture of terror and amazement (think of the reaction of the shepherds while watching of their flocks, when unexpectedly interrupted by an angel…). There’s no place in the wheel for ‘awesome’ to mean ‘I really like that photo you took’. Or, ‘your soup is delicious’. Or, ‘I am so pleased to have made a plan to meet you at Pete’s Pub’.

Language is a living thing, and the hyperbolic application of powerful words to mundane emotions or objects is widespread and unsurprising. But a Cat. 4 hurricane really is awesome stricto sensu: it is both an amazing ‘extreme weather event’, and a terrifying one, as the header image and the many images of Matthew’s progress posted online amply  illustrate. The recent practice of  giving hurricanes comfortable names does nothing to dispel their power or the awe they inspire.  On present tracking, Matthew will reach Abaco some time tomorrow. From a safe distance, I wish everyone on Abaco and elsewhere in the target zone all the very best and a safe passage through the storm.



Credit: 'Watts Up With That" - Click image for Hurricane Irene page of this excellent weather & climate site


Astounding, breathtaking, amazing, stunning, astonishing, awe-inspiring, stupendous, staggering, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable, magnificent, wonderful, spectacular, remarkable, phenomenal, prodigious, miraculous, sublime, formidable, imposing, impressive, mind-boggling, mind-blowing, out of this world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, amazeballs, badass


Credits: Nasa / Goes, NASA / ISS, Wunderground, Craig Setzer




I have no idea if there is a collective noun for a large group of silversides. ‘Frenzy’ would cover it, but that is reminiscent of ‘feeding freezing’ which has a specialist meaning – and anyway, silversides are crazy even when they aren’t feeding. 24/7/12/365 as far as I can make out. I think ‘a panic of silversides’ might be the answer. They are just… all over the place at high speed. Sometimes swirling around pointlessly, other times moving in unison and suddenly all changing direction simultaneously, like a single creature made of tiny shards of silver.


There are quite a few silverside species around the world. The ones in the Bahamas are Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), also known in the north east of the United States as ‘spearing’. They seem to exist for two purposes. The main one is to be breakfast, lunch or dinner for larger fish, sea birds and shore birds. The other is for their usefulness in scientific research because of their sensitivity to environmental changes. 


In one sense they are easy prey for predators. A determined fish will always manage a snack by swimming into the middle of a panic and (probably) simply by opening its mouth wide. On the other hand, their sheer numbers coupled with the speed and randomness of movement mean that a single may find a degree of safety in numbers. It’s hard for a predator to target any individual fish in the general melee and confusion. Silversides also favour seagrass beds, which give some shelter and protection – and a reasonably safe place to spawn. Or, as some of these photos show, they will hang around wrecks or squeeze into rocky spaces in the reef.


A panic of silversides apparently pouring like a waterfall down through a gap in the reefsilversides-waterfall-abaco-kay-politano



Some time ago we used to go to the reef at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve with Kay Politano, and I would snorkel with a small and very basic lo-res underwater camera. I was hampered by being a disgracefully feeble swimmer; by not having snorkelled for a length of time calculable in decades; and by being a complete novice at underwater photography.  Despite these not inconsiderable disadvantages I managed to cobble together a few short movies on my computer (I was new to that too). Here’s one that nearly works, in that it gives an idea of what happens if you ‘swim with silversides’. I know you scuba guys all swim with sharks, but cut me some slack here please…

Photo Credits: Main photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Silverside Waterfall by Kay Politano; motionless silversides by FISHBASE.ORGMusic: Goldon Giltrap, ‘Fast Approaching’