COOKIECUTTER SHARKS: BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS


Cookiecutter Shark mouth, jaws & teeth (BMMRO Bahamas)

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS

BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS

The Cookiecutter shark Isistius brasiliensis (aka the less scary, more genial sounding ‘cigar shark’), might be an ideal candidate for a Room 101 nemesis.** These little beasts – a species of dogfish shark – are found in several mainly island-based areas dotted around the globe, including in Bahamas waters.

 

HOW COME THE NAME?
These sharky little b@st@rds (*scientific term*) attack marine mammals and fishes, attaching themselves by suction and gouging out perfect round plugs of skin and flesh, leaving what are sometimes called ‘crater wounds’. Then they eat them. Imagine getting hold of a really sharp domestic cookie cutter with circular rows of razor-sharp teeth, and grinding it hard into your thigh. There! That! 
The size of an adult shark:16″ max
The term ‘cookiecutter’ is also a pejorative slang term, meaning mass-produced, lacking in originality, or boringly samey, as in cookiecutter cars or TV genres etc. The little critters under consideration here are anything but…
                        

HORRIFYING COOKIECUTTER FACTS

  • Live in the depths, rise vertically in the day & dive back down at dusk
  • Undersides have light-emitting ‘photophores’ which emphasise…
  • …the dark collar which acts as a lure, resembling a small innocent fish
  • Bioluminescence lures prey & confuses predators (more on this below)
  • The glow is so strong it may last for some time after removal from water

  • Their lips are ‘suctorial’ = they attach tightly to their target
  • The jaws then gouge out the victim’s flesh in a remarkably neat circle
  • Omni-vicious: any medium to large ocean creature is vulnerable to attack
  • There are even occasional reports of humans being targeted

Here are two Blainville’s beaked whales that I photographed from the BMMRO research vessel. The top whale has a number of circular healed attack marks and a recent one. You can see how deep the gouged hole is. The other has well-healed scars.

Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

  • Multi-toothed: top rows of small teeth, rows of larger teeth on the bottom
  • The lower teeth are the cutters, acting like a saw when locked on
  • See header image and below for full details

    

HOW EXACTLY DO THEY DO WHAT THEY DO?
I can explain it no better than the renowned authority Prof. W. K. P. Dear:  “the suctorial lips ensure a tight seal. It then bites, using its narrow upper teeth as anchors while its razor sharp lower teeth slices into the prey. Finally, the shark twists and rotates its body to complete a circular cut, quite possibly aided by the initial forward momentum and subsequent struggles of its prey. The action of the lower teeth may also be assisted by back-and-forth vibrations of the jaw, a mechanism akin to that of an electric carving knife”.

                 ARE THESE SHARKS ‘PARASITES’, WOULD YOU SAY?

The behaviour of these sharks is an example of a symbiotic relationship between two species that is parasitic. This means essentially that one gains and the other suffers (eg humans & no-see-ums). This is distinct from commensalistic symbiosis, where one species gains and the other is unaffected (e.g. cattle egrets with cattle); and mutualistic symbiosis, where both gain (e.g. cleaner fish & groupers). So, in a word, yes.

  • An ‘ambush predator’: these little sharks ‘hover’ in the water column waiting…
  • They are capable of rapid movement to catch up & latch onto prey
  • They will eat a passing small fish, crustacean or even squid as a snack
  • Sometimes they operate in schools; there is safety in numbers
  • The schools are thought to increase the ‘lure’ effect of the dark collar

A beached whale that’s been heavily targeted

FUN FACT TO COUNTERACT THE BAD STUFF

In the late c20, more than 30 U.S. Navy submarines were forced back to base to repair damage caused by cookiecutter shark bites, either to the neoprene footings of sonar domes or to rubber-sheathed cables. The problems were solved by using fibreglass. Oceanographic equipment and telecommunications cables are also recorded as being damaged by these sharks.

Cookiecutter Shark – the real deal

MONSTERS OF THE DEEP

These great cards from the weirdly spelled WIERD ‘N’ WILD CREATURES provide excellent factual info. Their CCS card is no exception. You’ll find more details here about the effect of the bioluminescence and so on, written as clearly as I might hope to. 

Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)

** “The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.” (George Orwell, 1984). Being in a tank with some cookiecutters might count.

Alright now… the wounds eventually healBlainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: BMMRO – header image; beaked whale photos – Keith Salvesen / BMMRO; Te Ara NZ for the main jaw image; all small images with thanks to Wiki and respective photographers who took the time to upload them for all to enjoy & learn from; ‘wierdnwonderful creatures’ for the monster card; range map from Wiki

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)


Artocarpus altilis - breadfruit (Hans Hillewaert)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)

Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of BREADFRUIT (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population. I think we can all guess the status of the latter at that time.

Breadfruit 2

‘BLIGH’S BLIGHT’ – MUTINY!

Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required in transit, compared to their own meagre rations. So they threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for provoking a mutiny by his conduct (from a strictly legal viewpoint and on the bare facts, not a surprising ruling you might think).

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (Robert Dodd)

This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…

Mutiny_on_the_Bounty_Poster (1935) 220px-Poster_for_Mutiny_on_the_Bounty BLIGH’S SECOND CHANCE

Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish, on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk at the prospect, yet finally he succeeded. However, he completed his journey only for those on the consumption end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and even longer for its culinary versatility to become appreciated. Breadfruit image (Pacific site)

The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay. I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree and its eponymous fruit.

Breadfruit Tree Notice, Hope Town Abaco (Dp PatersonBreadfruit Tree, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.

For those unfamiliar with the fruit and its interior, here it is in both slice and cross-sectionBreadfruit sliced (US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center)

BREADFRUIT IN ART

Breadfruit has (somewhat surprisingly?) received some artistic recognition over the years. Here are a few examples. The first, very jolly, includes early representations of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly; the second is quite dull; the third is instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth is not at all appetising to look at… nor, in the days of adhesive stamps, to lick.

Breadfruit with butterflies (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)Breadfruit (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

                                 Breadfruit (John Frederick Miller)                                  Breadfruit drawing John Frederick Miller

      Breadfruit & related plants used as food (William Rhind (1841)     Breadfruit etc William Rhind (1841)

Breadfruit - Bahamas Stamp

SO WHERE DOES BREADFRUIT GROW NOW?

Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – the fact that Madagascar is a suitable yet not a very good location, for example (not enough rainfall). You will soon find yourself alone…

Breadfruit - the world propagation range

A CULINARY TREAT

Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and un-tasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that… it’s within my shamefully limited culinary skill-set.

Breadfruit Recipe (myrecipefriends.com)

BAKED BREADFRUIT

Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

A PERFECT HOPE TOWN BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

BLIGH’S END

Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him. He continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of  ships. He ended up as a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.

V-A William Bligh (1814)

Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London (Geograph, Commons Media

This post was originally published a while back, inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice.

Wyannie Malone Museum Crest, Hope Town, Abaco

HMS BOUNTY II (Full Sails). A 1960 reconstruction (Dan Kasberger)HMS_BOUNTY_II_Full_Sails 1960 reconsrtuction (Dan Kasberger)

Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

I am re-posting this sea fan article as 2021 rolls over into 2022 with much the same disruption, anxiety, and (for many) grief that we were all facing a year ago. The converse and somewhat rhapsodic title reflects the experience of many people since Covid engulfed the world. Life has become simultaneously real and surreal. It continues in many respects as normal yet who would have guessed that as we entered a new decade in 2020, the face mask would quickly become an essential (or anyway a medically recommended) part of daily life and remain so? 

This post was written at a time of sunshine, normality and optimism, before Covid and even before the violent destructive force of Dorian in autumn 2019. Here’s some cheer from sea fans on the coral reefs of the Bahamas.  

GALLERY OF GORGONIANS 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defence mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL. Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development, specifically in the field of  anti-inflammatories. Another benefit, of course, is that they are very beautiful to look at. And in bad times, that can only be good .

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: these wonderful photos were taken by Melinda & Keith Rodgers / Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour; and Melinda & Fred Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba. Huge thanks to them all for allowing me to freely use their skilful underwater photography in this blog for the best part of a decade.

A SPECIAL FAN FOR A HAPPY AND HOPEFUL 2022

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

ABACO PARROTS: CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS


🎼 …and a parrot in a gumbo limbo tree…🎶 🎵

 ABACO PARROTS: CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS

A VERY HAPPY FESTIVAL OF FESTIVITY TO ALL FOLLOWERS OF ROLLING HARBOUR…

…AND TO EACH AND EVERY RANDOM DROP-BY TOO…

…AND HOPE, HEALTH & HAPPINESS &  FOR 2022

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer & Nina Henry: photographed on Abaco, Bahamas for “The Birds of Abaco”

 

CHRISTMAS BUNTING(S) . ABACO . BAHAMAS


BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

painted-bunting copy

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Few birds radiate Yuletide vibes better than Painted Buntings, with their perfect festive colours. Here is a seasonal flock of them to enjoy. A very happy Christmas to those who kindly continue to visit Rolling Harbour, despite the unavoidable absence from the Bahamas of the Harbourmaster.

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copyPainted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy                                                     

Painted Bunting reflection, Laguna Seca.South TX Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

 

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO by KEITH SALVESEN: final copies available


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

NEW! UNEXPECTED!

There’s nothing like a massive house clear-out (after 42 years) to reveal lost possessions, forgotten treasures, and (for that matter) a few things best forgotten… Last Spring we began to prepare for a house-move, during which I found a box of bird books that I duly reported here (and happily sold). Recently, sorting through a packed shipping container parked in the unlikely setting of a local farm has revealed plenty of surprises, including a couple more boxes of BIRDS OF ABACO. There definitely aren’t any more. There may be one or two people who might like one / who lost their copy during Dorian / who are new to Abaco and its wonderful birdlife. Here is a chance to own one… 

In the spirit of recycling I am reusing the original blurb because it still holds good today. The book is only ‘out of date’ to the extent that since publication about a dozen new species have been reported. Most were seen just the once, some for a few weeks at most. So although exciting, the newcomers were more ‘Birds Passing Through…’ than ‘Birds Of…’ Abaco  

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
 
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

BAHAMAS DOLPHINS: VIEW FROM A RESEARCH BOAT with BMMRO


Recent weather conditions have mostly been perfect for launching the new BMMRO boat and continuing with ongoing marine mammal research. The field work at the moment is one aspect of the ‘Saving Abaco’s Dolphins after Hurricane Dorian’ project.

Acoustic research involves deploying specialised recorders to monitor sub-surface noise levels such as ship-generated sound. This helps to determine the effects of underwater noise pollution on marine mammals. Areas of concern can be identified and monitored. Naturally the dolphins take a keen interest as well, and there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy their company out on the water.

More general research includes compiling intricate records of dolphins encountered, noting specific characteristics. The dorsal fin is generally the most helpful ID marker, as they are all different – especially when there is some wear and tear to go by.

BMMRO records for dolphins go back a long way, and often involve two or more generations of the same family. Amazingly, during the last few days, a dolphin was encountered whose mother was first seen as a calf in 1992…

BMMRO are hosting a meeting in Hope Town to explain recent work and its results

BMMRO intern Jaylen gets to admire dolphins at close quarters in the Sea of Abaco

Dolphin Research . Sea of Abaco . Bahamas . BMMRO – all photos © BMMRO

‘TERN, TERN, TERN’: THE UN-NOTORIOUS BYRD COUSINS


Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘TERN, TERN, TERN’: THE UN-NOTORIOUS BYRD COUSINS

There are twelve species of tern – ‘swallows of the sea’ – that to a greater or lesser extent may be found on Abaco. Whether they will actually  be visible at any given time is less certain, though. For a start, the only resident species is the lovely Royal Tern, available at many locations on Abaco and the cays throughout the year. The rest are migratory or just passing through.

PERMANENT RESIDENTS

ROYAL TERNS Thalasseus maximus PR1

Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

MIGRATORY TERNS: SUMMER

In the slightly less commonly-found category are the summer migrant terns that, by definition, are only in residence for around half the year. Four of these are fairly common in certain areas, and actually breed on Abaco; these include arguably the prettiest of all, the bridled tern. The other two tern species (gull-billed and sandwich) are more rare and as far as I can make out do not breed locally; or perhaps only rarely. 

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1

LeastTern, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

BRIDLED TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2

BridledTern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)BridledTern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

ROSEATE TERN Sterna Dougallii SR B 2

Roseate Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

SOOTY TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2

Sooty Tern, Duncan Wright wiki

GULL-BILLED TERN Gelochelidon nilotica SR 3 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)Gull-billed Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

SANDWICH TERN Thalasseus sandvicensis SR 4

Sandwich Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)Sandwich Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

MIGRATORY TERNS: WINTER

There is one very rare winter resident migratory tern species, with few records of sightings for Bahamas and until early 2019, no photographic record for Abaco until Sally Chisholm saw one at Treasure Cay and managed to capture it for posterity.

FORSTER’S TERN Sterna forsteri  WR 4

Forster's Tern (Dick Daniels)Forster's Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

OCCASIONAL & RARE VISITORS

A further four tern species are very much occasionals that drop by. Three of them pass over the Bahamas on their longer migration, but may make a pit-stop around Abaco to take on fuel. Likelihood of sighting one? Slender but not impossible… the Caspian tern below was photographed on Abaco. The fourth, the Arctic Tern, is a very rare vagrant, a bird well away from its usual home or migration route as the result of storms or faulty satnav or sheer happenstance. Don’t travel to the Bahamas intent on seeing one.

CASPIAN TERN Hydroprogne caspia TR 4

Caspian Tern Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)Caspian Tern Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

The remaining species are the transient black tern and common tern; and the vanishingly rare vagrant  Arctic tern. No photos of any of these I’m afraid. Here’s a handy checklist of all the tern species.

     ELECTIVE MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Written by Pete Seeger, Turn x 3 was released in 1965, the title track on the second album by The Byrds. At a rather febrile time in US history (Vietnam, draft riots, civil rightists v cops and so on), this unusually palliative and thoughtful song with its religious connotations to some extent stood for peace and hope in a time of turmoil.

PS the somewhat laboured title of this post shoehorns in the name of another Byrds album, ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’

Photo credits: Keith Salvesen (1, 2, 3, 5, 18); Tony Hepburn (4); Alex Hughes (10, 11); Bruce Hallett (6, 7, 12); Woody Bracey (8, 13, 16); Duncan Wright (9); Dick Daniels (14); Sally Chisholm (15); Keith Kemp (17)

Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES IN ABACO BAHAMAS


‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES IN ABACO BAHAMAS

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) manage to be simultaneously majestic, hideous, revolting and socially vital, all packed into a single species… Right now there is a slew of online excitement about them, although it can’t be because it is ‘International Turkey Vulture Appreciation Day, which is on September 4th. Anyway, it’s always a good time to join a flock of admirers.

turkey-vulture

THE FACTS

The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus‘ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or ‘very loud Metallica song*‘. 

TUVUs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay (from the release of the chemical ethyl mercaptan) from a distance. A breeding pair will raise two chicks, which revoltingly are fed by the regurgitation of all the rank… oh, you fill in the rest

These vultures are often seen in a spread-winged stance, which is believed to serve multiple functions that include drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria. Possibly it also reduces the miasma of rotting meat that may surround them after a good meal.

TUVUs like best to perch on a vantage point – utility posts or wires are ideal.

You won’t ever hear them sing or call. They lack a SYRINX (the avian equivalent of a larynx), and their vocalisation is confined to grunting or hissing sounds. Here’s a hiss (at 10 / 15 secs).

10 SCAVENGED TURKEY VULTURE FACTS FOR YOU TO PICK OVER

  • One local name for TUVUs is ‘John Crow’
  • An adult  has a wingspan of up to 6 feet
  • Sexes are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger
  • The eye has a single row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two on the lower lid
  • TVs live about 20 years. One named Nero had a confirmed age of 37 
  • LEUCISTIC (pale, often mistakenly called “albino”) variants are sometimes seen
Leucistic TUVU
  • TUVUs are gregarious and roost in large community groups
  • They have few natural predators (perhaps for reasons of their hygiene deficiency)
  • Though elegant in flight, and users of thermals, they are ungainly on the ground and in take-off
  • The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can see through the beak
turkey-vulture

REVOLTING CORNER / DEPT OF ‘WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION’ 

SQUEAMISH? THEN LOOK AWAY NOW

UNATTRACTIVE HABITS The Turkey Vulture “often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known as UROHIDROSIS. This cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs”. The droppings produced by Turkey Vultures can harm or kill trees and other vegetation. Maybe don’t park your nice car under one of their perching posts…

HORRIBLE DEFENCES The main form of defence is “regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator”

DIETARY NOTES TUVUs tend to prefer recently dead creatures, avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. They will occasionally resort to vegetable matter – plants and fruit (you could view this as their side-salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll often see them on roadsides feeding on roadkill. They also hang around water, feeding on dead fish or fish stranded in shallow water. 

ECO-USES If you did not have birds like this, your world would be a great deal smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread. TUVUs kept the highways clear and work their way round the town dumps recycling noisome items. Humans need them although, conversely, they don’t need humans.

FORAGING TUVUs forage by smell, which is uncommon in birds. They fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, the gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. Their olfactory lobe in the brain is particularly large compared to that of other animals.

SEX TIPS Courtship rituals of the Turkey Vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In humans, similar occasions are called ‘Dances’. A pair will fly, with the female closely following the male while they flap & dive… then they land somewhere private and we draw the veil…

turkey_vulture2
My favourite graphic of all time

Credits: Craig Nash (1); Keith Salvesen (2);  Nina Henry (3, 5, 6); amy-at-poweredbybirds (4); Charlie Skinner (7); Xeno-Canto / Alvaric (sound file); Birdorable (TUVU cartoon); depressingnature.com (puking TUVU); Source material OS & magpie pickings. Adapted and updated from a previous version written a while back

*As Metallica so appropriately wrote and sweatily sang (luckily there’s no verse referencing urination, defecation and puking). ALERT don’t actually play the video – the song hasn’t aged well! In fact… it’s terrible. Woe woe indeed…

The vultures come
See the vultures come for me
Fly around the sun
But now too late for me
Just sit and stare
Wait ’til I hit the ground
Little vultures tear
Little vultures tear at flesh

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS


Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS

The Great Egret is actually a heron rather than an egret. It’s a Great Heron. All egrets are members of the heron family Ardeidae, but the converse is not true. As long ago as 1758, Linnaeus awarded the bird the binomial name Ardea alba i.e. ‘Heron white‘. Why it should have been so hard to stick to that authoritative nomenclature, I can’t imagine. Perhaps in time all heron and egret species became so hopelessly confusing for people that it ceased to matter much what they were called.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Maybe it was that type of carelessness that led to people from the mid-c19 onwards eyeing up GREGs as a source of hat feathers and other decorative necessities. As with flamingos and many other beautiful avian species, mankind’s millinery and other fashion needs were satisfied at the expense of gorgeous plumage. Actually, at the cost of the birds’ lives: they were simply shot in huge numbers. 

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Healthy populations were decimated; for some species they never recovered. For others, the great egret among them, the passage of time and the passing of fashions – backed in many cases with conservation programs – have successfully restored the populations. In 1953 the National Audubon Society, which was formed at least in part to discourage the killing of birds for their feathers, took a decisive step in the cause of the great egret by making the bird the emblem of the organisation.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Photo Credit: Nina Henry photographed all the egrets in this post. Her wonderful images of this magnificent egret heron made a significant contribution to the “BIRDS OF ABACO” project.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

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