WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO


Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO

The Delphi Club on Abaco has a number of permanent residents (or by now – let’s be realistic – maybe their descendants). There’s the huge curly tail lizard that lives under the large stones by the outside staircase. There are the West Indian Woodpeckers that noisily nest in a box under the eaves of the verandah and produce 2 batches of shouty chicks each summer. And there is the silent sentinel – a loggerhead kingbird that spends much of its time in the trees and bushes at the far side of the pool.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

It’s a good place to chose. The bird uses the tree branches and shrubs to ‘hawk’ for passing insects, suddenly leaving its perch to pounce, before returning to just the same place to eat its snack – classic flycatcher behaviour. I call it the ‘watchful tyrant’ because the kingbird is nearly always there. Somewhere. If you look carefully and wait patiently. He stays in the shade, so he’s not bright with sunlight (or P/shop) in these photos. This is just the way he is.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Kingbirds are of the family Tyrannidae and the genus Tyrannus. The ‘tyrant’ group includes a number of flycatcher species commonly found on Abaco: the KINGBIRDS (loggerhead and gray), the CUBAN PEWEE and the LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER being the most familiar. Note the hook at the end of the beak; and the yellowish tinge to the undertail area.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

With the exception of the gray kingbird, the flycatchers named above are very common permanent breeders on Abaco. There’s probably one of them within 20 feet of your house right now. The gray, however, is a summer breeding resident. This is most helpful of it: if you see a kingbird between October and April, it will be a loggerhead. This gives you a 6-month window for near-certain ID.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

IT’S SUMMER – SO HOW DO I TELL A LOGGERHEAD FROM A GRAY?

EASY. CLICK HERE

All photos: Keith Salvesen; Cartoon by the legendary Birdorable

ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY


Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY

Recently I was contacted by someone who had found an unusual orchid on Abaco and wanted to find out more about it, starting with ID. Lucy, an English botanist who has been visiting Abaco with her husband for many years, discovered a strange wild orchid species that did not appear in any of her books. So she turned to Detective Harbour who, unknown to her, is mostly paralysed with hopelessness when it comes to plant ID (except hibiscus, obvs). But he can sometimes find the people who know these things…

Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

Lucy’s photos showed a striking, tall-stemmed plant growing from an exposed round root. She found 3 plants in Cherokee near Watching Bay; and another growing randomly beside the road at the airport – ‘bizarrely’, as she points out. She (and I) assumed the orchid to be a native species, and hopefully a rare one. I couldn’t track it down online so I got the views of Mark Bennet at the Leon Levy Preserve, and the BNT plant expert Ethan Freid. Both agreed that the orchid is Eulophia graminea

Orchid Eulophia graminea root, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

Disappointingly, this orchid species turns out not to be a rare native one at all – which explains the problem of searching for it in books and online as a Bahamas species. It is in fact a non-native invasive plant from south east Asia. It has apparently been spreading through the Bahamas over the last 10 years or so, having originally been introduced into the region in south Florida. So, while of interest, the orchid does not really ‘belong’ – unlike Encyclia Inaguensis which Laine Snow has helpfully identified as the most similar Bahamian orchid.
Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

This raises the ‘Brown-headed Cowbird Conundrum‘. The plant is here on Abaco. By rights it has no business to be. It has probably arrived from Florida, where it has no business to be either. So the big question is, does its presence impact on native flora species in any adverse way?

  • Is it a benign addition to the plant species of the Bahamas, that in 100 years time will be fondly viewed as a native and appearing in books / online as local.
  • Or is it an unwelcome intruder, quick to spread and slow to eradicate, aggressively gaining an increasing hold on the precious soil and water resources on Abaco and exterminating the native orchid species in the process (cf in the UK Himalayan Balsam / Giant Hogweed / Japanese Knotweed).
  • Or somewhere in-between – not exactly welcome and trouble free, but something the local flora can get along with, without unacceptable levels of damage to the local species. Just about tolerable.
 
Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Bob Peterson Wiki)
SO, WHICH OF THE THREE IS IT?

Well, I’m afraid Eulophia graminea is in category 2 – the real brown-headed cowbird category. It was first discovered in Miami in 2007. The bulbs from which the plants grow are hard to dig up. They are covered in little roots, each one of which has the potential to become a new plant. Already it has spread rapidly in Florida, and has now been found growing in most types of plant habitat, from maritime to rockland. In other words, it is not at all good news.

OH NO! WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
Well, first I would not advise unilateral action… I take a tough line, though, on potentially damaging non-natives – namely, remove them before they spread uncontrollably and ineradicably. In this case I’d suggest that if you see this plant, note and mark the location and report it to the BNT and ask their advice. They will no doubt have a general policy on invasives, or make one on a case-to-case basis.
 Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Scott Zona Wiki)
FUN (?) FACT

The word ‘orchid’ comes from the Latin 0rchis or orchideæ, and Greek ὄρχις (orkhis). This means a testicle, and is based on the shape of the root. In medieval England, orchids were called ballockwort. To this day the surgical procedure known as an orchidectomy refers to the removal of one or both testicles. Moving swiftly on…

Credits: Lucy and Mark Davies (1 – 4); Bob Peterson Wiki (5); Scott Zona Wiki (6); Mark Bennet, Ethan Fried & Laine Snow for ID; University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,  Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Plant Directory for research; Online Etymology Dictionary for Orchid definition…

‘CUDAS: “WHAT BIG TEETH YOU’VE GOT…”


Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

‘CUDAS: “WHAT BIG TEETH YOU’VE GOT…”

Or, if not exactly big then lethally lacerating. Their sharp fangs are all different sizes, which gives more of a mincing effect than a clean bite. Then there’s the underbite, involving more mincing. And the fact that the teeth are set at different angles. That’s a third mincing effect. Prey in those strong jaws? No chance. 

Three -way mincing machine. Avoid.Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Teeth? Enough dentition already. It’s impossible not to admire these lean, mean eating machines as they glide around in their natural environment. The photos below are designed to redress the balance a bit. Sinister, yes. But mighty fine fish, without a doubt.

Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as ever for her terrific photos

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS & BAHAMA DUCKLINGS


White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS & BAHAMA DUCKLINGS

The white-cheeked (‘Bahama’) pintail is everyone’s favourite dabbling duck. You can see them in large numbers at Gilpin Pond, and in slightly lesser numbers in the pond on Treasure Cay golf course. You may come across the occasional pair or singleton way out on the Marls. Wherever they may be, spring means duck ahem… erm… sex. And that means… gorgeous ducklings. Like the ones below. You can see more Abaco pintails HERE but this post showcases the delightful progeny of mama duck (not forgetting papa duck’s role, of course). 

White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)

This means ‘get any closer to my darling ducky at your peril, back away now, you’ve been warned’.White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

A proud pair of parents. No, I can’t tell which is which – males and females are very similar. My guess is that the female is nearest.White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

Credits: all absolutely adorbs Anas bahamensis photos are by Tom Sheley & Charles SkinnerWhite-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

FREE BONUS FOR MAY! BAHAMA PINTAIL DRAWING LESSON!

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 13: THE ROUGHHEAD BLENNY


Roughhead Blenny - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 13: THE ROUGHHEAD BLENNY

The WTF? series has looked at a number of bizarre reef denizens, and this little fish is certainly that. For a start, its ‘correct’ name is Acanthemblemaria aspera, an excellent challenge for saying 10 times very quickly **. And the name blenny comes from the Greek word for ‘slime’, quite enough to make the poor creature a laughing-stock in the reef community.

Roughhead Blenny - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

There are in fact several hundred blenny species and subspecies around the world. The roughhead is one of the most commonly found in western Atlantic subtropical and tropical waters. These are burrowing creatures, and they find holes in the nooks and crannies of coral reefs – and indeed in the coral itself. Brain coral seems to be a preferred location. Mollusc shells are another. Or they may just bury themselves in the sea floor. 

Roughhead Blenny - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

The  ‘roughness’ of head refers to the whiskery appendages (cirri) on a blenny’s blunt bonce – slender tendril or hair-like filaments. The word cirri is the plural version of the wispy high altitude cirrus clouds that streak the sky. These tendrils are shown clearly in some of the photos here, despite the tiny size of the fish (± 1 inch). 

Roughhead Blenny - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

THESE GUYS LOOK A BIT PRIMITIVE, AM I RIGHT?

To be precise – as far as is possible – blennies can be dated back to the Paleocene Era (or is it an Epoch?). This spanned a period 66 to 56 million years ago – around the time of the formation of the Rolling Stones.

Roughhead Blenny - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

You can find out more about roughheads in this excellent eHow video I came across after I’d written this post, to which I should now add that there is considerable colour variation in this subspecies, as you may already have noticed…

** You can also try this with ‘Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’. Yes I know. Maddening, isn’t it. You can’t stop now you’ve started. Sorry…

Credits: all photo, Melinda Riger; video, eHow

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: AN “IF ONLY” BIRD FOR ABACO


Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: AN “IF ONLY” BIRD FOR ABACO

About 3 years ago, there was great excitement when a new bird species was recorded on Abaco. Not just recorded, but actually photographed too – the best of evidence. This was a fork-tailed flycatcher, and to no one’s great surprise another one has never been seen since. So sadly the STFC must go down in the records as a V5, a one-off vagrant. Until another one turns up, anyway. But there will never be another ‘first STFC ever‘ on Abaco. You can read about the new species HERE.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

The sighting came quite soon after the publication of The Birds of Abaco, and instantly rendered the comprehensive checklist in the book out of date. In all, 6 new bird species have now been sighted on Abaco and in due course I need to amend the checklist to reflect the changes. And add ‘wild turkey’ to the also-ran column ‘Exotics Seen on Abaco.’

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is another so-called ‘tyrant flycatcher’ with long streaming tail forks. I had a look at the checklist to see if the species was recorded for Abaco, and sure enough it is included as a V4, which is to say a very rare vagrant with maybe half-a-dozen sightings over the years. I’m not aware of any photos of one taken on Abaco. However, birding and photography authority Danny Sauvageau occasionally encounters these magnificent birds in Florida. His recent photos of the scissor-tailed flycatcher are so beautiful that you just have to see them. How wonderful if this exotic creature could find its way to the northern Bahamas more often. Until it does, it will remain what I term an ‘if only’ bird – one that is regretfully absent…

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

All fantastic flycatcher fotos: Danny Sauvageau with many thanks – check online, you won’t see a better collection than this…; cartoon, Bordorable

TURTLE BREEDING SEASON & A SMALL POEM TO PONDER


Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

TURTLE BREEDING SEASON & A SMALL POEM TO PONDER

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle 
In such a fix, to be so fertile.

Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

Anyone unfamiliar with the works of OGDEN NASH (1902 – 1971) would do well the check out his inimitable poetry, in which he takes extreme liberties with both rhyme and scansion to great comic effect. The poem above is a good example of Nash’s neat way with words. It always makes me laugh, anyway. So simple, looks so easy, but a very difficult trick to pull off consistently as Nash effortlessly does.Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

As the turtle breeding season moves forward, I though this would be a good time to show a few of the great turtle photos taken by Adam Rees of ‘Scuba Works’.Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

All photos: Adam Rees / Scuba WorksSea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works