MAPPING ABACO: A JOURNEY BACK TO THE c18


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MAPPING ABACO: A JOURNEY BACK TO THE c18

From time to time I come across historic maps of the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular. Many were included in a post I wrote some time ago about the maritime and geographic importance of Hole-in-the-Wall, HERE. Almost all pre-c20 maps of the Bahamas contain insights into the maritime and geo-political history of the islands that are worth investigating. One that recently caught my eye is a map dated 1778 from Italy, published in Venice, with the excellent title “Il Paese de’ Selvaggi Outauacesi, e Kilistinesi Intorno al Lago Superiore”, attributed to Antonio Zatta, John Mitchell and G T Raynal.  “The title translated, might read, “The Country of the Savage Ottowas and Christineaux on the shores of Lake Superior.” Except for Ile Royale, the large islands in the lake are fictitious. The somewhat distorted outline of southern Florida in the inset is in keeping with general lack of British knowledge about this area” Portinaro & Knirsch 

Zatta was a Venetian cartographer who produced some important maps in the 1770s and 1780s, including a 4-volume atlas of the world. Mitchell was a geographer and botanist, best known for the first comprehensive map of eastern North America (1755); Guillaume Thomas Raynal was a French writer and journalist most famous for his treatise on the ‘philosophical and political history of the establishment of commerce by Europeans in the the two Indies’, a work that was considered controversial (it was banned in France, and copies burned). 

THE COMPLETE MAP

Lake Superior, with the ‘Supplemento alla Florida Orientale’ inset – a strange juxtaposition…abaco-map-zatta-1778-sm

FOCUS ON FLORIDA

The ‘eastern Florida’ inset conveniently happens to include the northern Bahamas. Staying with Fl. for a moment, of note is the inclusion of C. Canaveral, spelled then as now. Key Biscayne is also shown. I wondered about the place marked Tartarughe Secche – ‘Dry Turtles’. It is now Dry Tortugas National Park. “Mostly water, this remote park features abundant marine & bird life plus a 19th-century fort. It comprises 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Loggerhead Key has a lighthouse and sea turtles. On nearby Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship, is a popular dive site. Bush Key is a nesting site for seabirds like sooty terns.”** I suspect that these coral reef islets were marked on maps in days before lighthouses because of the hazards they posed to navigation at sea; and because, like Hole-in-the-Wall on Abaco, they were useful navigation aids.

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ABACO & NORTHERN BAHAMAS

Unacknowledged in both the map and the inset titles, are the northern Bahamas islands. We can pass by Bimini, Andros and (Grand) Bahama which, apart from distinct oddities of scale, shape, and location are more or less as one might expect for the period. Let’s look at some details of the depiction of Abaco. 

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  • ABACO(A) The first geographical jolt comes not from the well-known fact that historically, present-day Abaco was originally called Lucaya (or variations), but that (New) Providence was called Abacoa. Adding to the confusion, some early maps also show certain cays as ‘Abaco’, ‘Abacoa’, or in the case of Tilloo Cay in 1815, ‘Aboca’, possibly through errors or misunderstandings. This map is one of the few I have seen that shows both the mapped transition of Lucaya (or its variants) to Abaco; and of Abaco(a) to Providence. If anyone has any idea why this came about, I’d be pleased to know!
  • HITW? The next surprise is that Hole-in-the-Wall, an established and mapped nautical landmark for some decades, is not marked. Shown on maps since at least 1738, this is the first map I have found – other than the most basic – that does not feature HITW (in whatever language) or ‘Lighthouse Point’. An odd omission.
  • PORTO PICCOLO’s inclusion is interesting because it continues a tendency – eg 1738, Couvens & Mortier – to show Little Harbour as the only named settlement, though by 1778 there must have been others. LH was clearly a place of some significance, and this presumably had a nautical explantation: the harbour is perfectly placed to offer protection and a safe refuge in stormy weather.
  • CANAL DELA BALENA refers to what, by the early c20, was called ‘Whale Cay Channels’ (below), by which time it was more accurately mapped. Other c18 maps also show ‘Chenal Whale’ and ‘Whale Channel’, but considerably north of the actual location. But in those days, even the outline of Abaco and the location of the cays was usually endearingly wonky.whale-cay-abaco-map-crop
  • BARRA DI DUCHTWRECK I haven’t been able to find out much about this location, or the wreck that gave it its name. A map by Thompson (1815) calls it ‘Dutch Wreck Bar’, and I can only assume that at some time in the early c18 – or even the c17 – a Dutch vessel came to grief on the reef. I need to look into this more. Someday. Oddly, the modern Italian for a reef is barriera not barra. Maybe the word has changed over time, or the usage barra then was colloquial; or perhaps in mapping terms it was a generally accepted abbreviation.
  • I MIMBRES This reef or shoal area of is usually mapped as Matanilla Reef, Maternillo Bank or Reef, or variants. In 1656 this area – presumably dangerous for shipping – was the scene of a dramatic tragedy involving a treasure ship, the flagship of a fleet. I dug up reports of the events in Portugese which baffled ‘Google Translator. I was bailed out by an article about treasure hunter Robert Marx and his findings:

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If you have got this far at all, or even with the assistance of 2 or 3 Kaliks, thanks for bearing with me. The old Abaco maps are fascinating, and of course once one begins to dig, so more stuff emerges… and so on.

Credits: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, http://www.davidrumsey.com / Cartography Associates – in particular for licensing non-commercial use of material via a Creative Commons License; magpie pickings from multiple open-source sites.

**Dry Tortugas National Park review comments are eclectic and include “Crystal clear water, lots of wildlife, nice people and such a cool fort”; “The Dry Tortugas area first gained significance after the War of 1812” and “Constant nice breeze and comfortable night time temperatures for sleeping.”

THINK PINK: A RUNCIBLE OF SPOONBILLS


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THINK PINK: A RUNCIBLE OF SPOONBILLS

Healthy happy hungry birds ‘in the pink’. Always a pleasure to see. And when there is a group of them, how often one reaches for the correct collective noun: a murder of crows, an exultation of larks, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of owls and so forth. Many are historical terms, dating back to medieval times in Europe, and often linked to hunting and falconry. As a rule of thumb, the more recent the term, the more likely to have been invented – especially if there is a comedy undertone.

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The trouble with spoonies is that there is no historic or traditional name for a group of them. In such circumstances, using the term ‘flock’ is generally the safest bet. A quick glance online suggests that modern suggestions are mainly jocularly cutlery-based: a canteen, a measurement, a service, and… a ‘runcible’ (a neat nod to Lewis Carroll). That’s the one I prefer.**

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One thing is beyond dispute: Phil Lanoue takes some of the best bird action shots around, and I’m proud to be permitted to showcase them from time to time. Spoonbills are rare enough these days in the northern Bahamas, so it is good to know that they are thriving not so very far away to the west. Abaco still has occasional spoonbills dropping in – you can see the latest one, found at Gilpin Pond, HERE.

What are you guys looking at?spoonbill-5-9-16-phil-lanoue

Got to get every feather just right…spoonbill-3-9-16-phil-lanoue

**The slightly ill-tempered-sounding baldmonkeyseenabird suggests ‘a repugnance of spoonbills’ but I think he / she may have been having a difficult day…

All photos by Phil Lanoue. Check out his awesome website https://phillanoue.com

I must fly now… see ya!spoonbill-1-9-16-phil-lanoue

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY 2016


Piping Plover in flight (Fl., Danny Sauvageau)

PLOVER APPRECIATION DAY  2016

Today’s the day that plovers appreciate the humans who enjoy them and look after them. Or maybe they have become more valuable than ever (I hope I have understood this right). I’m stuck at an airport right now waiting on a delayed flight, after our original flight had already postponed by 48 hours, and I’d sure appreciate being able to fly out of here under my own steam. So to speak. Free as a bird. Like these guys.


Semi-palmated Plovers in flight, Abaco (Alex Hughes)_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)Semi-palmated Plovers in flight, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

Credits: Danny Sauvageau (1); Alex Hughes (2, 4); USFWS (3); BA for 2 extra days away…

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM 

While putting together “The Birds of Abaco” I looked at and archived hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies (and in different parts of the world the categories themselves may be named differently). There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved another outing here. Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves. 

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Magnificent Frigatebird (inflated-throat) (Michael Vaughan)

(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

American Oystercatcher, Delphi, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

(Examples include avocet, black skimmer, oystercatcher, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (impressively, some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Great Egret, Abaco - Tom Sheley

(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

These lists were put together in useful chart form. Please check with BCS (link above) if you want to ‘borrow’ itseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientistImage Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – Keith Salvesen, Michael Vaughn, Tom Sheley

UNDERWATER ANGELS: ANGELFISH


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UNDERWATER ANGELS: ANGELFISH

We are away for a few days, so I have planned a few posts that won’t fall apart courtesy of being done on a phone. Hopefully.

Angelfish are fabulous and come in various ‘colorways’, as designers say. Queens are my favourite, with grays not far behind. The third type here, the French, is in bronze medal position on my piscine podium but this could change were I ever to meet one in real life…

QUEEN ANGELFISH

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GRAY ANGELFISH

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FRENCH ANGELFISH

The middle fish is a juvenile

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Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

INTERNATIONAL MANATEE DAY SEPT 7



imageHow could I have forgotten? Here we are, just arrived in south-west France, hemmed in by mountains, sea and Spain. Blissful. imageYet there are more important things than mere vacations. Manatees are high on the list of priorities.
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So to celebrate their special day, as the bats flitter above our glasses of Mas Rous, here’s an iPhone post in celebration of these curious – in both senses – and gentle creatures. imagePhotos courtesy of BMMRO, with thanks to Felice for her great Bahamas manatee FB page.image

Credits: BMMRO, the excellent Peppermint Narwhal (logo)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 11: STARGAZER FISH


Star Gazer fish (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 11: STARGAZER FISH

It’s a real shocker! This fish is a serious contender. An A-list horror-fish. The WTF? series has featured some extraordinary, bizarre and frankly unbelievable fish species. Here’s one that might just blow them all out of the water. So to speak. Not only is this fish weird in a number of respects, but it is also dangerous. Behind its eyes it has a special ‘electric organ’ (a “Hammond”?**) that produces a shock when touched. Oh for a superpower like that, even if only to be used defensively. 

“They’re the meanest things in creation,” fish scientist William Leo Smith, who owns a stargazer, told the New York Times. “I was so excited to get it. It’s the worst pet on earth.”

‘Fish out of water’. Note (but do not touch) the area behind its eyes…Northern_Stargazer (Canvasman21 wiki)

The Northern Stargazer Astroscopus guttatus whiles away the long lazy days lying mostly buried by sand, the stargazy eyes on top of its head picking out prey – mostly small fish – to ambush and stuff into its bizarre YKK zip-mouth. It can bury itself in seconds. An adult stargazer may grow to nearly 2-foot of concealed eating machine. They will stay put unless disturbed, confident that a false move by a creature – it could be you in your flippers – will mean it will be in for a shock. 

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10 STARGAZER ATTRIBUTES TO ADMIRE (BESIDES THE ELECTRIC SHOCKS)

  • The strange mouth looks as it does because it is fringed to keep out sand
  • The head-top eyes can be made to protrude to allow a wider field of vision 
  • It ambushes small fish and swallows them whole (see video below)
  • To lure prey, stargazers discharge seawater through their gills… (Reader: why?)
  • It causes the sand to move about – possible lunch is waiting for a fish further up the food chain
  • They are born with eyes on side of the head; they move to the top as they grow from the larval stage
  • They are content to be solitary, except in the Spring (for the usual reasons)
  • Apparently “little is known about the mating behaviours of these creatures”. A pity, I feel.
  • They have no scales, but they make up for that with an impressive 13 anal spines
  • Unimpressed? Well they also have venomous spines near their gills & above their pectoral fins

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WEIRD FISH – AND WHAT’S WITH THE WEIRD NAME?

I wondered that too. The Astroscopus part derives from the Greek, ‘astro’ (star) and Latin ‘scopus’, a conceptual noun combining watching and targeting – think ‘telescope’, or ‘far-target-watching’. The guttatus (L) part simply means spotted or speckled. A Homo guttatus may need mild medical attention.

Stargazer clip (Wideangl)

THOSE ELECTRIC SHOCKS – HOW BAD ARE THEY?

Well. I kinda knew you’d ask so I looked into it. According to the exceptionally cool ‘Monsters of the Deep’ (see credits), the stargazer shock is approximately 50 volts. The British Health and Safety Executive, whose job is normally to interfere with almost every aspect of daily life in the UK (“you are strongly advised not to drink from bottles marked ‘Rat Poison’ portraying a Skull & Crossbones motif, lest disappointment should result”) has assisted: 

A voltage as low as 50 volts applied between two parts of the human body causes a current to flow that can block the electrical signals between the brain and the muscles. This may have a number of effects including: stopping the heart beating properly; preventing the person from breathing; causing muscle spasms.

The exact effect is dependent upon a large number of things including the size of the voltage, which parts of the body are involved, how damp the person is, and the length of time the current flows.

Sadly, you are quite unlikely to find a stargazer in Abaco waters, which lie slightly beyond their fairly limited western Atlantic range. But hop over to Floridian waters, move a bit north, and you might meet one.

**A musical instrument allusion

Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works; Canvasmas21 wiki; Nat Geo Kids;  MONSTERS OF THE DEEP (cool underwater site to check out!); Casey Patton / FMNH; Mother Nature Network (inc for video); Wideangl (clip)