PIED-BILLED GREBES: LESS COMMON THAN THE LEAST


Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

PIED-BILLED GREBES: LESS COMMON THAN THE LEAST

There are two grebe species recorded for Abaco. The LEAST GREBE is the most common; the pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is rarer. These small birds, often called dabchicks, are marsh and pond dwellers. They are sometimes found in brackish or even salt water.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The pied-billed grebe is somewhat larger than the least grebe. In the breeding season, they have a distinctive black beak-ring. In the header image, the bird is just starting to acquire the ring. Their dark eyes also distinguish them from the golden-eyed least grebe; and their beaks are pale rather than dark.

Least grebe with golden eyes and dark beakLeast Grebe, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Pied-billed Grebe for comparisonPied-billed grebe, Abaco (Linda Barry Cooper)

These birds have lobes on each toe rather than webbed feet. This helps them to paddle and to dive – which is how they mainly forage. They can stay under water for up to half a minute, often surfacing some distance from the entry point. This is one method they use to avoid danger – especially as they don’t fly with much enthusiasm.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (MDF wiki)

Grebes rather endearingly carry their young on their backs until the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves. The main threat to the species is habitat loss, especially of wetlands. The decline in local populations of this once-prolific bird is such that in some places they classified as threatened or endangered.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Dori / wiki)

The pied-billed grebes’ call has been rendered thus: a “whooping kuk-kuk-cow-cow-cow-cowp-cowp.” If that helps you at all. If not, try this clip:

Michel St Martin / Xeno-Canto

Credits: Tom Sheley, Tony Hepburn, Keith Salvesen (least grebe), Linda Barry-Cooper, MDF / wiki, Dori / wiki; Sound file, Xeno-Canto; Cartoon, Birdorable

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO WATERS


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO WATERS

It’s hard to believe that the seas around Abaco and its cays are home to a number of whale species, from huge sperm and humpback whales down to so-called dwarf or pygmy species. In the middle of this range come the beaked whales, the most common being the Blainville’s Beaked Whale. I say ‘most common’, but in fact they are rare in the world, being found in only two other main locations on earth. 

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

These whales are carefully monitored by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and there is a tagging program to keep track of them. As with dolphins, individuals are identified by markings on the dorsal fin, which vary for each whale. The one above has distinctive scarring at the tip. There are also striations on the body, and conspicuous circular marks that are healed wounds caused by cookie-cutter sharks.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

To the untrained eye, there are no noticeable marks on the dorsal fin of the whale above. However, the whale’s back has a prominent pattern of scarring and healed cookie-cutter wounds. The whale below really looks as though it has been in the wars, with long deep healed wounds behind the head.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

I can’t tell without seeing the head, but I wonder if it is a male and the scars have been caused in a fight with another male – adult males have prominent tusks with which they do battle. Here is an photo that I took from the research boat on a different occasion. The tusks protrude upwards from the lower jaw, and are often covered in barnacles. They are capable of causing serious injury.

Blainville's Beaked Whale male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Blainville’s beaked whales are amongst the deepest divers of all whales. But that and other whale topics will have to wait for another day… My computer malware / virus has been removed professionally with no data loss, and I have some catching up to do. Cost in terms of panic and stress: huge. Cost in real terms: $90.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

All photos BMMRO except the tusked male, Keith Salvesen

BROKEN NEWS: HOSPITALISED COMPUTER…


Turkey Vulture, Abaco (Craig Nash)

BROKEN NEWS: HOSPITALISED COMPUTER…

My computer has caught a bad virus

Which is decidedly less than desirous.

This bout of malwaria

Could hardly be scarier –

I’d prefer to endure Miley Cyrus…

Normal service will be restored once the gremlins have been professionally terminated

Photos: Craig Nash (contributor to Birds of Abaco)

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS


Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

Spotted Eagle Rays – Abaco, Bahamas

‘RAISE AWARENESS’: SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

Mention of rays may conjure up thoughts of the familiar southern stingrays that populate the bright shallows and colourful reefs of the Bahamas. But there are other ray species out there gracefully patrolling the coral reefs – and one of these species is the spotted eagle ray (Aetobatus narinari).

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Catherine / Tara Pyfrom)

These fish (for that is what they are) are not uncommon. In fact they are found in tropical oceans worldwide (though there is a taxonomic distinction between the Atlantic version and the Pacific / Indo-Pacific ones). Note the concentration in the Caribbean sea.

Spotted Eagle Rays, Grand Bahama, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Spotted eagle rays obviously have spots, but they are not notably eagle-like to look at. In fact, their snouts resemble a duck’s bill, and in some place they are less glamorously known as the duckbill ray. The ‘eagle’ part relates to the way in which they use their wings and appear to be soaring as they glide effortlessly through the water (see videos below).

Spotted Eagle Rays (Lazlo-photos Wiki)

Despite their global presence, these rays are categorised as ‘near-threatened’ on the IUCN Red List. Aside from vulnerability to predators including many types of shark, the rays may be caught as bycatch. In some areas they suffer entanglement in shark nets. And unsurprisingly there is a trade for them for large commercial aquariums. For the Atlantic species, Florida has taken a lead by banning fishing for, landing, buying or trading in spotted eagle rays. 

Spotted Eagle Rays, Abaco, Bahamas (Gabrielle Manni)

10 ESSENTIAL FACTS ABOUT SPOTTED EAGLE RAYS

  • They have 2 – 6 venomous barbed spines at the base of the tail
  • Adults are among the largest rays, with a 10 ft wingspan
  • They can leap clear of the water, and may do this more than once at a time
  • Occasionally they land in boats, to the consternation of all concerned
  • Their main diet is small fish and crustaceans, & sometimes octopuses
  • Their broad snouts are used to dig food out of the seabed as they forage
  • The rays are basically shy but may be curious of divers & snorkellers
  • They suffer from parasites, both externally and in their gills
  • Ray sex is quite physical, yet actual mating is brief (up to 90 secs…)
  • The female hatches her eggs internally, then her ‘pups’ are born live a year later

SPOTTED EAGLE RAY PUP

                          

Spotted Eagle Ray (John Norton Wiki)

 VIDEO SHOWCASE
These 3 short videos demonstrate the grace and beauty of spotted eagle rays as they glide elegantly around the reefs. The first (50s) was taken off Grand Bahama by Fred Riger (Melinda’s husband, for those who follow the underwater forays hereabouts); then one by Stephen Dickey (2:12) ; and finally one from Wildscreen Arkive (2:00).

WEIRD CREATURE CORNER

I have a lot of time for these cards produced by ‘Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures’. In their unique style they are simple, educative and often give information nuggets not found elsewhere. The link is to their 4th series, Monsters of the Deep.

 

Photo credits: Gabrielle Manni (1), (5); Catherine & Tara Pyfrom (2); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (3); Lazlo-photos Wiki (4); Wiki (baby ray thumbnails); John Norton Wiki (6); Jacob Robertson Wiki (7); Weird ‘n’ Wild Creatures – card images. Videos as credited in text.

Spotted Eagle Ray, TCI (Jacob Robertson, Wiki)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

There are 23 sandpiper species recorded for Abaco. Of those, 4 or 5 are vanishingly rare vagrants recorded once or twice in recent history (i.e. since about 1950).

Discounting those, the ones you are likely to encounter range from the large  (whimbrel, yellowlegs, dowitchers, stilts) to the small. Or, in the case of the least sandpiper, the least big of all. They are bigly little. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The binomial name of the least sandpiper – Calidris minutilla – is an apt clue to their size, the second part being Latin for “very small”. On Abaco, they are fairly common winter visitors, and each season a handful of them make their home on the beach at Delphi, where these photos were taken. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Along with their small sandpiper compadres such as SANDERLING, these busy, bustling birds of the shoreline are the ones known as “peeps” (also as stints). Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Least Sandpipers breed in the northern tundra areas of North America. Like many or most shorebirds, newly hatched chicks are able to fend for themselves very quickly. It sounds unlikely I know, but within a couple of weeks or so they have fledged. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The birds forage on mudflats, in the tideline on beaches, and in wrack. They will probe into soft sand, sometimes the full length of their beak. They will even burrow right under weed to get at the concealed goodies. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans, insects, and snails.Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos by Charles Skinner (contributor to “The Birds of Abaco”) except the wrack-burrowers above, by Keith Salvesen (also on the Delphi Beach).

Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…


Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…

Daydream for a moment. Imagine that you had a different occupation. And your new one involved daily contact with spectacular wildlife underwater (this assumes you can swim – debatable in my case). And access to some upmarket camera equipment. And the ability to use it effectively. Oh, and use of a reliable boat. And some sea.

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Say, for example, you joined a dive operation. Then the chances are very high that these wonderful creatures would be a part of your daily 9-to-5. 

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

You wake up with a start. Oh no! Half an hour gone, and that crucial email still half-written… Where did the time go?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All gorgeous turtles taken by Adam Rees of Scuba Works (slogan: “Land is so overrated”) in the course of his everyday working life. Some people, eh?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…


A GREAT EGRET MAKES A SPLASH…

I’m quite a  fan of bird action sequences. Top quality ones, I mean, not the rubbishy ones that I have tried to accomplish with either (a) a camera I understand but is not sophisticated enough for such use; or (b) a more serious camera that I never got the hang of, was secretly a bit ‘overawed by’ (= scared of), and which met a watery end when I was photographing sanderlings on the beach while standing in the sea…

Among the photographers who kindly let me use their images from time to time are a couple who are especially adept with sequential shots. One is Danny Sauvageau, a Floridian who combines great bird photography with a tireless capacity for tracking down banded birds at migration time. Here is his Great Egret catching breakfast.

Credits: All fantastic photos by Danny Sauvageau, with thanks as ever for use permission; cartoon, the very excellent Birdorable