BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

OCTOPUSES: WORTH LEARNING TO SCUBA FOR?


Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

OCTOPUSES: WORTH LEARNING TO SCUBA FOR?

If I had to give a single reason for learning to scuba, watching an octopus would be very near the top of a long list. It’s never going to happen for me, of course – I have about 17 excuses lined up just in case anyone should ask me to try it. But still. One can dream…

Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

Meanwhile, I can luckily rely on an experienced professional to get the shots. Here are a few great octopus photos taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba – perfect examples of an excellent reason for chucking aside the snorkel and doing something a bit more adventurous. Maybe…

Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

RELATED OCTOPUS POST

THE CORRECT PLURAL Learn 12 essential octopus facts plus the definitively correct plural of the word ‘octopus’ (out of 3 rival options). Please note that the possibilities do not include ‘octopodices’, which would be latin for ‘eight rumps’ (or ‘asses’, as you might say), if such weird creatures existed.

Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

 

REMEOctopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama ScubaMBER – KEEP AN EYE OUT…

 

STARR-STUDDED MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Does Ringo still have it? Did he ever have it?

CHEROKEE SHELL MUSEUM, ABACO: “GIFTS FROM THE SEA”


Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

CHEROKEE SHELL MUSEUM, ABACO: “GIFTS FROM THE SEA”

One of the smallest museums in the world has just opened on April 15 in the picturesque settlement of Cherokee on Abaco, Bahamas. Other contenders for the title include the MmuseumM in New York, housed in an elevator shaft (look through glass window + audio guide); a converted red telephone kiosk in Warley, Yorkshire UK dedicated to local history (one visitor at a time); and a tiny shed of 134 sq ft in Arizona featuring what might broadly be called ‘ephemera’, including a Beatles poster…

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Abaconian

Whatever the size comparisons, the new shell museum is beyond doubt the very best one in the Bahamas, not least because it is the only one. “Gifts from the Sea” is housed in the former 1950s telegraph office that ceased to operate in 1987 and had fallen into disrepair. Leased from BTC for a nominal rent, the little building was restored, and given a smart new roof and a complete makeover. The new museum provides the perfect space for displaying a selection of the wonderful shells to be found in Abaco waters.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The whole community has got behind this project, which is the vision and creation of Curator Lee Pinder. Derek Weatherford fitted cabinets for the exhibits, and artist Jo-Ann Bradley has painted a fabulous interior Cherokee-themed mural as a fitting backdrop to the displays.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The exhibition shows more than 200 shells, each catalogued with its Latin and common name, and clearly labelled in the display. Most were found locally; a few are from further afield. Some specimens are very rare. It is hoped to expand the collection as people make shell donations to the museum. 

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Abaconian

The building has a door at each end to give natural light and provide a ‘walk-through’ arrangement, which will make viewing in the confined space easier. Entry is free but there’s a glass jar for donations towards the upkeep of the museum. I’m guessing here, but I reckon donations that are made ‘outside the jar’ (so to speak) are very welcome too…

Museum Curator Lee PinderCherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The opening ceremony took place on Easter Saturday, when Cherokee resident Rev. Bateman Sands performed the official ribbon cutting ceremony preceded by a prayer at precisely 12 noon. As Jennifer Hudson in an Abaconian article points out, he was the ideal person for the task, having been “the first telegraph operator in Cherokee Sound, working in the little building using Morse code and in charge of the one and only telephone in the settlement until 1987 when the new BTC building was opened”.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The shell museum is not left open all the time, but visitors are welcomed and private tours can be arranged by calling 475-7868.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

To see a selection of the many types of Abaco shells, check out my shell page HERE

Sources and Credits: Bradley Albury / Jennifer Hudson / Abaconian; Cindy James Pinder for her great photos

Sand dollar, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)

BLUE TANG AS REEF FILM STAR


Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BLUE TANG AS REEF FILM STAR

Last summer, the big motion picture sensation for the bird world was, of course, Pixar’s ineffably adorable creation, Piper – the ultimate ‘Chick Flick’. This little ball of cartoon fluff was not, as some thought, based on a piping plover but on a sanderling – a type of sandpiper (clue in name). This 6 minute ‘short’ preceded the main event, the hugely popular Finding Dory. You can read all about the film Piper and the birding aspects of the film HERE

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Finding Dory is not about a fish of the dory species, of course. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is in fact a species of surgeonfish Paracanthurus, the familiar blue tang found on the reefs of the Bahamas. To see these fish in Abaco waters, Fowl Cays National Park is always a good bet.

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Dory can be identified as a maturing juvenile: blue, with a yellow tail. In due course – in time for the sequel film – she will become blue all over, with perhaps the odd flash of yellow (see photos above).

In real life, a baby blue tang is in fact entirely yellow, except for blue rings around the eyes. In Pixarland, however, Dory is just an adorbs miniature version of her youthful self.

Blue Tang juvenile, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Blue Tang are lovely to watch as they cruise round the reefs, sometimes in large groups. Their colouring ranges from pale to dark blue. However, these are fish that are best looked at and not touched – their caudal spines are very sharp. When the fish feels in threatened, the spine is raised and can cause deep cuts, with a risk of infection.  

Still from a crummy video taken at Fowl Cays some years back to illustrate a group of blue tangBlue Tangs, Fowl Cays Nature Park, Abaco Bahamas (KS)

Blue tangs are inedible, they apparently smell unpleasant, and they can cause ciguatera. However they are popular in the aquarium trade. This is a distinct downside of highly successful films such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. In defiance of the well-meant and broadly ecological message of both films, the trade in clown fish and to a lesser extent blue tang was boosted by their on-screen portrayal as adorbs creatures desirable for the entertainment of mankind… ‘Nuff said.

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: All excellent photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; one pathetically bad still from a low res video, me; cartoons purloined from an online aquarium somewhere or other

FLAMINGO BREEDING SEASON ON INAGUA, BAHAMAS


Flamingo feeding chick, Inagua National Park (Casper Burrows / BNT)

FLAMINGO BREEDING SEASON ON INAGUA, BAHAMAS

The national bird of the Bahamas, featured in the nation’s Coat of Arms, was once a familiar sight in the Bahamas, but sadly no more. On Abaco they are no longer seen, apart from occasional vagrant birds that stay for a few weeks and then disappear. 

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / Lynn Gape / BNT)

An attempt in the 1990s to reintroduce flamingos on Abaco and to establish a breeding population failed. You can read more about the history of the ‘fillymingo’ on Abaco HERE.

Flamingos & chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / BNT)

Nowadays, the flamingos breed only on Inagua, and to see these gorgeous birds you will have to go to the INAGUA NATIONAL PARK , where you will find the world’s largest West Indian flamingo colony.  

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / Lynn Gape / BNT)

The breeding season is now under way, with large numbers of fluffy gray chicks finding their legs in the lagoons. A team from the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST is working with them at the moment.

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / Lynn Gape / BNT)

The team have with them the distinguished wildlife photographer MELISSA GROO, whose wonderful award-winning work will be known to anyone with a keen interest in wildlife. If you want to see wild birds and wild animals as you may never have seen them portrayed before, do visit Melissa’s superb website by clicking her name link above.

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / BNT)

Credits: Melissa Groo, with thanks as ever for use permission [please note that her images are subject to her professional copyright]; BNT, especeially Lynn Gape & Casper Burrows (header image)

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / BNT)

BLACK WITCH MOTH: HARBINGER OF DEATH OR LOTTERY BANKER?


Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Charles J Sharp)

BLACK WITCH MOTH: HARBINGER OF DEATH OR LOTTERY BANKER?

Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata are seriously bad news. Or wonderfully good news, depending where you are and who you talk to. First, lets look at some of the local names for the creature, from which you will get a pretty clear idea of its somewhat negative folklore status, as well as its area of distribution. I do this not to demonstrate how effortlessly I can ‘borrow’ from Wiki, but rather to show how a simple moth can give rise to widespread superstition and even fear. 

12 SCARY NAMES FOR ONE MOTH

  • Mariposa de la muerte (butterfly of death) – Mexico / Costa Rica
  • Pirpinto de la Yeta (something like ‘jinxing butterfly’) – Argentina
  • Tara Bruja (witch moth) – Venezuela)
  • Miquipapalotl (black death moth) – Mexico
  • Taparaco (something like ‘messenger in black’) – Peru
  • X-mahan-nah (‘borrows your house’ [eh? Ed]) – Mayan
  • Duppy Bat (lost soul / ghost /malevolent spirit) – Jamaica, Caribbean
  • Money Moth, Money Bat – Jamaica, Caribbean (including Bahamas)
  • Other names include Papillion-devil, La Sorcière Noire, Mourning moth, Sorrow moth.

These large moths (wingspan up to 7″)  are nocturnal, with females larger than the males. The diagnostic marking is a spot on each forewing shaped like a number nine or a comma (or maybe even ying / yang symbols?). This spot is often green with orange highlights (seen in the header image). The stripey larval caterpillar can grow up to 7 cm in length.

Black Witch moth larva - Ascalapha odorata - wiki

The moth is a migratory species, flying from (roughly speaking) South America as far north as Florida and Texas. The worst luck is believed to come from having one flutter into your house. It will either bring bad luck to the house – or if there is already misfortune there, it will make it worse. There are variations on this belief – e.g. that the more corners of a room the moth visits, the more doomed the household.

Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Julia Gotz)

IS THERE ANY GOOD NEWS ABOUT THIS CREATURE?

Fortunately yes, and it’s high time to dispel the gloom. In some places (e.g. Hawaii), it is believed than when a loved one has died and an Ascalapha odorata is seen soon after, it is the person’s soul returning to say farewell.

More promisingly still, in the Bahamas a far more positive and practical attitude is shown. If a Money Moth (or Money Bat) lands on you, you will receive some money. Or so it is said. Texas, thinking big, takes this several steps further to the prediction that you will win the lottery (I have a feeling this is a very modern theory).

WHY ARE YOU SCARING US WITH THIS THING?

Because until last month I had never heard of these moths, let alone seen one. Then one balmy Delphi evening, at dusk, someone pointed out a large dark smudge on the door-frame. I only had a cellphone, and I had to use the flash. Here is the moth, with its evil little eyes shining in the flash. Luckily, it was outside not inside the building, which I hope diluted the malevolence radiation level (though I didn’t realise that at the time of course, until I’d looked it up in Sibley’s indispensible ‘Compendium of Evil Moths‘). It’s a terrible photo, but it was useful for ID and I feel that taking a quick shot helped to ward off the worst of the unpleasantness. Though now I think of it I did fish badly (even for me) the following day…

        A poor photo but mine own… 

CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE IN LITERATURE

Remember Silence of the Lambs? Well in the book, pupae of the Black Witch moth were placed in the mouths of victims by serial killer ‘Buffalo Bill’ as his calling card – though for the film, the moth species was changed to a Death’s-head Hawkmoth, as featured on the poster.

You can read about Hannibal Lecter’s link to moths, and learn how for the film the pupae were were made from sweets (Gummi Bears ™) so as to be harmless if swallowed, HERE

SO ARE THEY HARMFUL IN ANY WAY AND / OR WILL ONE MAKE ME RICH?

No

Taking one’s life in one’s hands…?Black Witch moths Ascalapha odorata (Charles J Sharp)

Photo credits: Charles J Sharp (1, 5); Wiki (2); Julia Gotz (‘juliatrees’) (3)*; Keith Salvesen (4)   Sources: Julia Gotz (‘juliatrees’), Terry Sovil, , Texasbutterflyranch.com, Wiki, Sibley’s ‘Compendium of Evil Moths

*Julie closed her blog, from which photo 3 comes, in 2010. I’m hoping she won’t mind my resurrection of her image to illustrate the species… Black Witch moth photos are quite rare online

PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF (3): SEAHORSING AROUND


Seahorse (Adam Rees / .Scuba Works)

PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF (3): SEAHORSING AROUND

It’s Friday at last. It’s springtime. A spirit of benign goodwill is evident in the vicinity of Rolling Harbour. Seahorses are irresistible. Don’t even try to pretend they don’t make you smile. Hippocampophobia is an affliction that, as yet, has never been diagnosed in a human being – for whom fear of beards, clowns and the number 5 (quintaphobia) are known medical conditions. Immerse yourself with these little creatures – and then have a good weekend.

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All fantastic hippocampi photos: Adam Rees / Scuba Works