MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK


MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK

Exactly two years ago, I wrote about the publication of a lavish limited edition facsimile of Mark Catesby’s renowned work The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands in 4 volumes to mark the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in the New World. Unsurprisingly, the cost of the set was prodigious (a rather nice car) – but only a fraction of the cost of a vanishingly rare original set (a rather nice house). Reader, I didn’t buy one.

Now the CATESBY MEMORIAL TRUST has produced an excellent and inexpensive illustrated introduction to Catesby’s great work that will transport you back through the centuries to the earliest days of natural historical research by Europeans abroad. It’s worth remembering that Catesby antedated the more famous John James Audubon (1785-1851) by a whole century.

Catesby’s signature

The new book has over 40 illustrations from Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. These are paired with relevant extracts from the work, and there is additional commentary. Click on Catesby’s Tropicbird below for a sample of the book.

Click me for book sample!

To buy the book – it’s $25 – click HERE

Mark Catesby - 'Bahama Titmous' (Bananaquit)

Mark Catesby – ‘Bahama Titmous’ (Bananaquit)

MARK CATESBY? JUST REMIND ME…

Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749) was a pioneering English naturalist and artist who published his magnum opus based on a number of expeditions he undertook from 1712 onwards. His was the first ever published account of the flora and fauna of North America, and the 2 volumes (with a supplement) included some 220 colour plates of the creatures and plants of land and sea that he had come across. After his travels, Catesby spent some 20 years producing his masterwork and died soon after, perhaps from the sheer effort of it all.

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree (HM QE2)

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree

AND HIS RELEVANCE TO THE BAHAMAS IS…?

On behalf of the Royal Society Catesby undertook expeditions, first to Carolina and then more widely in America and eventually in the Bahamas. On these trips he drew and painted detailed pictures of birds, fish, turtles, flowers and corals, many of which are familiar in the Bahamas to this day – and a few of which are included here.

Mark Catesby - Angelfish

Mark Catesby – Angelfish

Flamingo Head + Gorgonian Coral (HM QE2)

Flamingo Head & Gorgonian Coral

Mark Catesby - plate 139 Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby – Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

RELATED POSTS

CHARLES CORY & ABACO 1891

THE PIONEERS (Wilson, Audubon, et al)  

MR SWAINSON (on his 224th Birthday)

Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis)

RELATED BOOK

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Information about the Catesby Commemorative Trust and the book The Curious Mister Catesby can be found HERE. I have the book: it is wonderful, but as an amateur I find it quite a difficult read, and I have to take it in small chunks.

For anyone tempted to look further into the importance of this ground-breaking naturalist, the CCT produced a 50 minute film that is well worth watching if you are interested to know more.

Credits: HM QE2, Catesby Commemorative Trust, National Geographic, Mariners’ Museum Library, sundry open source info-&-pic-mines inc. Wiki, Addison Publs, 

“Illuminating natural history is so particularly essential to the perfect understanding of it”   (Mark Catesby)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES + ANGELS = REEF HEAVEN


Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES + ANGELS = REEF HEAVEN

Hawksbills on their own, nosing around the colourful coral reefs of the Bahamas, are a beautiful sight. I don’t want to overdo the religious tendency of the title, but they are indeed wonderful to behold. Add FRENCH ANGELFISH and a QUEEN ANGELFISH and it’s as close to perfection as a reef scene gets. Click on the links above for more pictures and details about the two angelfish species seen here with the turtle. As ever, Melinda Riger was ready with her camera to capture these great images.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This astonishing photo was of course achieved by carefully balancing a GoPro on the turtle’s back, wrapping duct tape around it, and pressing ‘go’ (camera and turtle simultaneously). **

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

** This is not true. It’s just a cleverly shot turtle’s-eye view as it forages on the reef

This short video shot by Melinda’s husband Fred of a turtle ‘loving’ the camera is one of those wildlife events that cannot be predicted… but when it happens, it’s frankly a bit of a scoop.

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

As I was writing this, an earworm started up and grew insidiously in both ears and then inside my head… the dread words “Elenore, gee I think you’re swell”. Followed by “so happy together…”. And then “she’d rather be with me…” Yes, I’ve now got TURTLES in my head, the (?long-and-hitherto-forgotten) band from the second half of the 60’s, with their cheery anodyne soppy-poppy love songs. And dammit, they’ve stuck… Here’s a reminder for those whose memory I have jogged. For anyone under, say, 75, step away from this area. Nothing to hear here.

Hawksbill Turtle & Angelfish (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: Grand Bahama Scuba: all photos – Melinda Riger & video – Fred Riger; Turtle music – someone else’s music collection, not mine, honestly… (oh dear another lie I am afraid – cred gone)

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS REVISITED


Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

ANTILLEAN NIGHTHAWKS REVISITED

In 2014 I wrote about finding myself – with others on a birding expedition – in the midst of dozens of nighthawks as they swooped and dived (dove?) while hawking for flies. “The birds were quite unperturbed by our presence, and from time to time would zoom past within inches of our heads, making a swooshing noise as they did so”. You can find the post at FAST FOOD ON THE WING.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Stephen Connett)

Nighthawks catch flying insects on the wing, and mostly forage at dawn and dusk – or (more romantically) at night in a full moon. 

Antillean Nighthawk (Stephen Connett)

Besides aerial feeding displays, nighthawks may also be seen on the ground, where they nest. I say ‘nest’, but actually they hardy bother to make an actual nest, but just lay their eggs on bare ground. And, more riskily, this may well be out in the open rather than concealed. The eggs – usually 2 – hatch after 3 weeks or so, and after another 3 weeks the chicks fledge.

  Antillean Nighthawk Egg (Stephen Connett) Antillean Nighthawk Egg (Stephen Connett)

Fortunately their colouring enables them to blend in with the landscape – a good example of bird camouflage in natural surroundings.

Antillean Nighthawk, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The photos above are from Sandy Walker (header), Stephen Connett – to whom special thanks for use permission for his great nighthawk and egg images – and the last one by bird legend and author of the locus classicus The Birds of the Bahamas (without which no trip to the Bahamas is complete), Bruce Hallett.

Antillean Nighthawk Chordeiles gundlachii, is a species of nightjar. These birds have local names such as ‘killa-ka-dick’, ‘pi-di-mi-dix’, ‘pity-pat-pit’, or variations on the theme, presumably onomatopoeic. Pikadik-(dik) will do for me. See what you reckon from these recordings (excuse the thick-billed vireo – I think – in the background):

Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto

ODD FACT

I have read in several sources that no one knows where these migratory birds spend winter; or else that winter season data is ‘scarce’. So no sensible range maps exist, for example. If you read this, and have antillean nighthawks (as opposed to common nighthawks) all round you in winter, please tell someone – you may hold the key to an ornithological mystery…

As so often, the Bahamas Philatelic Bureau leads the way with natural history stamps. The 15c Antillean Nighthawk above featured in a 2001 bird set. You can see dozens more very excellent Bahamas bird, butterfly, fish, flower and other wildlife stamps HERE.

Find out about Juan Gundlach, Cuban Natural Historian (he of the Antillean Nighthawk and the Bahama Mockingbird for example) HERE

 

 

Credits: Sandy Walker (1);  Stephen Connett (2, 3, 4, 5); Bruce Hallett (6); Andrew Spencer / Xeno-Canto (audio files); Audubon (7); Sibley / Audubon (8)

IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN: THE LIMPKIN


Limpkin wading (Michael Vaughn)

IN A CLASS OF ITS OWN: THE LIMPKIN

The Limpkin has a special status: it is in a Class of its own. Actually, it is in a Family of its own in terms of strict Linnean classification. It is in the Class ‘bird’ and the Order ‘crane and rail’. But there is no other creature in its Family or Genus. So it’s on its own, bird-wise. None like it anywhere. It is ‘monotypic’. 

Limpkin (Michael Vaughn)

These snail eaters are said to be named for their somewhat lame walking method on their long legs. Their long downcurved bills are shaped to act rather like tweezers when feeding on snails. I’ve never managed to get very close to one – they seem to be quite secretive. But boy, can you hear them when they decide to go for it. If you ever hear this sound – quite possibly at night – now you’ll know what creature is making it…

Jerome Fischer / Xeno-Canto

Limpkin wading (Michael Vaughn)

TEN LIMPID LIMPKIN FACTS TO ENTHRAL YOUR FRIENDS

  • The Limpkin has its own ‘monotypic’ family – a one-off species of bird
  • They eat snails and molluscs (also insects, worms & frogs), using their beaks to snatch them
  • They may leave piles of discarded shells in their favourite feeding sites
  • The birds are ungainly and awkward: ‘limpkin’ probably derives from their limping gait
  • Males and females have the same plumage (males being slightly larger)
  • The beak acts like tweezers – slightly open and closing at the tip – for tweaking snails etc
  • Territory is defended aggressively, with ‘ritualized charging and wing-flapping’ at intruders
  • Sex lives: they are monogamous; or polyandrous (a male and more than one female. Tsk.)
  • They use ‘courtship feeding’ – males will catch and shell a snail and then feed it to a female
  • They are also known as the ‘Crying Bird’ for their bizarre shrieking call, as used in films**

Limpkin (Michael Vaughn)

** Specifically, as a generic jungle noise in Tarzan films; and apparently for the hippogriff in one of the Harry Potter films.

 Credits: All main photos, Michael Vaughn taken in Florida – with thanks for use permission; teaching resource Schmoop for the Linnean infographic; audio file Jerome Fischer / Xeno-Canto
Limpkin (Michael Vaughn)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH


Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

 BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH

Butterflyfishes come in several varieties in Bahamian waters; and there are more than 120 species worldwide. Not so long ago I wrote about the LONGSNOUT variety, also known as the “Butterbun”. Now it’s time to take a look at the Reef Butterfyfish.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

In some ways butterflyfishes resemble small angelfishes – adult Reefs are just a few inches long. As the name suggests, these are creatures of the reefs, and of shallow waters. As one might expect, these colourful fish are popular for aquariums (or, strictly I suppose, aquaria). 

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Butterflyfishes have interesting spawning patterns. They release large numbers of buoyant eggs into the water. These become mixed in with plankton and suchlike, and float where the tides take them until they hatch. Then, most unusually, they go through a larval stage when they are covered by bony material, which they lose as they mature. This is known as an ‘armoured’ stage, which I can only assume is to provide protection to the tiny fry – perhaps by making them crunchy and unappetising. I’ve been trying to find a usable illustrative drawing, without success so far.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

In some parts of the world the butterflyfish is called a BORBOLETTA, which is Portugese for ‘butterfly’. It is also the title of Santana’s criminally underrated sixth album (1974). For sure it’s no 1st, Abraxas, 3rd or Caravanserai… but if you can tolerate the man’s move to ‘jazz-funk-fusion’ – maybe John McLaughlin had a hand in that – there is much to enjoy. There’s less searing guitar and there’s some strange ‘soundscape’ stuff that’s maybe not to everyone’s taste. But still – it stand up pretty well in comparison with some of the later Carlos creations where a certain tiresomeness began to creep in and some tracks are (IMVHO) not really listenable-to. Anyway, the recently released (2016) Santana IV is a welcome return to the good old days, and the good old team.

Here’s ‘Promise of a Fisherman’ – 8 minutes of  Santana, from which you can judge the direction he’s taken by Album 6…

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

All photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba – mainstay, with Adam Rees, of the underwater photos I use, what with me being a feeble swimmer and all. Tip o’ the Hat to Carlos, who I have even managed to see Live a couple of times.

HOOPOES: THE TARGET FOR THE WEEK (NOT ON ABACO!)


Hoopoe Upupa epops -

HOOPOES: THE TARGET FOR THE WEEK (NOT ON ABACO!)

From time to time, wildlife that is completely alien to Abaco, the Bahamas, or even the Americas will slip under the radar and find a place hereabouts. I’m hoping to find one such during the next few days. It is Upupa epops: the Eurasian hoopoe. This wonderful creature is a bird of the warmer areas of Europe and Asia (orange on the map below), and widespread (non-breeding) in areas further south including Africa.

Very occasionally they are found in the south of England, but we are travelling to the Balearics and the hoopoe is merely incidental to the expedition. I’ve seen them in France, Italy, and on Mallorca… and we are in with a good chance of finding one this coming week. So I’d better to remember to have more than iPhone with me…

Hoopoe Upupa epops -

The hoopoe’s most distinctive feature is its extraordinary erectile crest, which creates an impressive fan on top of its head. Then there’s attractive colour scheme. And that long, down-curved, insect-pecking beak. And that unmistakeable call, an onomatopoeic name that really fits the species (cf Whip Poor Will):

Xeno-Canto / Peter Boesman

There is a very real chance of finding and photographing this gorgeous bird, but I appreciate that it’s probably not of sufficient interest Abaco-wise to justify a second post so I’ll probably just put an image on Insta and FB. If any are good enough…

Credits: Artemy Voikhansky, Dûrzan cîrano, David Bottan for uploading the great hoopoe pics (CCL); Xeno-Canto / Peter Boesman; Wik for range map; open source stamp FDC

First day cover from Belarus (one of many countries to issue hoopoe stamps

SCOOP (2): AMAZING BLACK SKIMMERS & CHICKS


Black Skimmers and chicks - Danny Sauvageau

SCOOP (2): AMAZING BLACK SKIMMERS & CHICKS

Last year I posted about an avian scoop, when black skimmers (Rynchops niger) were actually photographed on Abaco. These wonderful birds are classified WR 4 for Abaco, which means uncommon winter residents (ie roughly September until April). Now I look into it further on the indispensable eBird, there are actually quite a few reported sightings most years on Abaco – especially on the Cays. Furthermore the sightings cover most months except midsummer. So maybe they aren’t so rare after all. But I couldn’t track down any workable Abaco skimmer photographs until Charmaine Albury managed to take a few last Autumn, which led to the gift post title SCOOP. Because that is just how they feed. 

Black Skimmer feeding - Danny Sauvageau

Danny Sauvageau is a dedicated birder in Florida, and a brilliant photographer with it. From time to time I feature his work when his camera skills cover a species found on Abaco but for which Abaco images are scarce (or non-existent). All these photographs were recently taken in Pinellas County, Fl., and I’m really grateful to Danny for permission for occasional use of his exceptional photos. 

Black Skimmers - Danny Sauvageau

At the moment, the breeding season is well under way, with the hungry chicks being fed as fast as they can swallow. And this is how that looks, thanks to Danny and his immense talent. 

Black Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny Sauvageau

All photos by © Danny Sauvageau, with thanks

And finally… I’d be really pleased to hear about any Abaco skimmer sightings (and I’ll keep an eye on eBird). Bonus points and a theoretical Kalik for photographs!

Black Skimmers skimming - Danny Sauvageau