GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 01

GULL-BILLED TERNS ON ABACO

The gull-billed tern Gelochelidon nilotica had a name upgrade from Sterna nilotica some years ago, and was awarded the honour of its own genus. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 04

Let’s be clear at the outset: there’s no such thing as a tern-billed gull. Which fortunately lessens the scope for species confusion. 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 05

There are 12 species of tern recorded for Abaco. Only one, the royal tern, is a permanent resident. There is one winter resident, the Forster’s tern and there a 6 summer resident terns of varying degrees of commonness. The other 4 are transient or vagrant, and probably definitely not worth making a special trip to Abaco to find. The G-BT is designated SB3, a summer breeding resident that is generally uncommon, though may be more common in particular areas.

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TERN TABLE**Tern Species Abaco**I know! Too tempting…

gull-billed-tern

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 11

The bird gets its name from it short, thick gull-like bill. It’s quite large in tern terms, with a wingspan that may reach 3 foot. They lose their smart black caps in winter.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 06

There are 6 species of G-BT worldwide, and it is found in every continent. While many terns plunge-dive for fish, the G-BT mostly feeds on insects in flight, and will also go after birds eggs and chicks. Small mammals and amphibians are also on the menu. The header image shows a G-BT with a small crab. I always imagined that they must eat fish. Surely they do? But I have looked at dozens of images online to find one noshing on a fish, with no success.

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 02

All photos were taken by Alex Hughes, a contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO, when he spent some time on Abaco some years ago in connection with the conservation of the Abaco Parrot and the preservation of the habitat integrity of their nesting area in the Abaco National Park

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco (Alex Hughes) 12

BRAIN WAVES: UNDERSEA CORAL MAZES & LABYRINTHS


BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN WAVES: UNDERSEA CORAL MAZES & LABYRINTHS

The most apposite description of brain coral Diploria labyrinthiformisis is essentially a no-brainer. How could you not call the creatures on this page anything else**. These corals come in wide varieties of shape and colour, and 4 types are found in Caribbean waters. They date from the Jurassic period.

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Each ‘brain’ is in fact a complex colony consisting of genetically similar polyps. These secrete CALCIUM CARBONATE which forms a hard carapace. This chemical compound is found in minerals, the shells of sea creatures, eggs, and even pearls. In human terms it has many industrial applications and widespread medicinal use, most familiarly in the treatment of gastric problems. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

The hardness of this type of coral makes it an important component of reefs throughout warm water zones world-wide. The dense protection also guarantees (or did until our generation began systematically to dismantle the earth) –  extraordinary longevity. The largest brain corals develop to a height of almost 2 meters, and are believed to be several hundred years old.

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

HOW ON EARTH DO THEY LIVE?

If you look closely at the cropped image below and other images on this page, you will see thousands of tiny tentacles nestled in the trenches on the surface. These corals feed at night, deploying their tentacles to catch food. Their diet consists of tiny creatures and their algal contents. During the day, the tentacles retract into the sinuous grooves. Some brain corals have developed tentacles with defensive stings. 

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

THE TRACKS LOOKS LIKE MAZES OR DO I MEAN LABYRINTHS?

The difference between mazes and labyrinths is that labyrinths have a single continuous path which leads to the centre. As long as you keep going forward, you will get there eventually. You can’t get lost. Mazes have multiple paths which branch off and will not necessarily lead to the centre. There are dead ends. Therefore, you can get lost. Or never get to the centre at all. 

** On the corals shown here, you will get lost in blind alleys almost at once. Therefore in human terms these are mazes. The taxonomic labyrinthiformisis is Latin derived from Greek, and applied generally to this kind of structure, whether in actual fact a labyrinth or a maze.

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

CREDIT: all amazing underwater brain-work thanks to Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Lucca Labyrinth, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Here is a beautiful inscribed labyrinth dating from c12 or c13 from the porch of St Martin’s Cathedral in Lucca, Italy. Very beautiful but not such a challenge.

Labyrinth (Maze), Porch Lucca Cathedral (Keith Salvesen)

BRAIN CORAL Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID: SUPERPOWERS & SQUID SEX


Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

CARIBBEAN REEF SQUID: SUPERPOWERS & SQUID SEX  

The Caribbean reef squid Sepioteuthis sepioidea is a small squid species of (mainly) the Caribbean Sea and the Floridian coast, and the most common in its range. These squid tend to form small shoals in and around reefs. From now on and through the summer would be a good time to investigate.

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Squid are voracious eaters, dragging their prey to their mouths with some or all of their 10 limbs and using their beak to cut it up. The target species are small fish, molluscs and crustaceans. The squid have a ‘raspy tongue’ known as a radula which further breaks up the food for easy consumption.

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

REEF SQUID SUPERPOWERS (SUPERCOOL)

  • Squid are capable of brief flight out of the water (a fairly recent discovery)
  • They can also hide from / confuse predators by ejecting a cloud of black ink
  • Squid can change colour, texture and shape, and can even match their surroundings
  • This enviable power is used defensively as camouflage or to appear larger if threatened
  • It is also used in courtship rituals (something that humans might find disconcerting)
  • Colour patterns are also used for routine squid-to-squid communication AND GET THIS:
  • A squid can send a message to another on one side & a different one to a squid on its other side

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SQUID SEX (1) “ROMANCING THE SQUID”

  • A male will gently stroke a female with his tentacles
  • The female will (most likely) flash an ‘alarm’ pattern. She’s playing hard to get.
  • The male soothes her (don’t try this at home, guys) by blowing and jetting water at her
  • If this doesn’t go well, he’ll move off, then repeat the routine until she sees his good points
  • However this on / off courtship can last for hours until at last he succeeds and then…
  • … he attaches a sticky packet of sperm onto the female’s body (romance is not dead on the reef)
  • She then reaches for it and moves it to her seminal receptacle
  • Meanwhile he stays close, emitting a pulsing pattern, as well he might after all that palaver
  • She then finds a safe place to lay her eggs. Job done. **

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

SQUID SEX (2) IT ALL ENDS BADLY. VERY BADLY.

  • As soon the female squid has laid her eggs, she usually dies soon after
  • Male squid live a bit longer and… may have other packets to stick on other lady squid
  • But then in the end he dies too
  • It’s all horribly reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet. The lovers die in the end (but there’s no romantic balcony scene first)

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

THE CORRECT PLURAL OF SQUID

I had an unwise look online, always a hotbed of conflicting opinions. Inserting an algorithm into the interstices of the internet proves conclusively that the plural of squid is… squid. One squid, ten squid, a group of squid, a plate of squid. Unless, that is, you are talking about more than one of the many squid species, when you could possibly say ‘I collect both reef and giant squids’. “Squidses” sounds fun but is sadly not permitted.

RELATED POST (from the past): THE PLURAL OF OCTOPUS

Caribbean Reef Squid, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

** For an excellent article about squid including the intricate details of courtship and reproduction (and an image of a squid penis) check out  SQUID WIKI 

Credits: Fabulous underwater pics – Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; research sources include MarineBio; Animal Diversity Web (Michigan Uni); and Wiki, which comes into its own in some fields of natural history where experts write the entry)

FAIRY BASSLET (‘MIND YOUR GRAMMA’): BAHAMAS REEF FISH


fairy-basslet-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copy-2

FAIRY BASSLET (‘MIND YOUR GRAMMA’): BAHAMAS REEF FISH (33)

The Fairy Basslet is a tiny brightly-coloured fish with a pretentious alternative name. It is otherwise known as the Royal Gramma (Gramma loreto). These fish are found  in the coral reefs of the (sub)tropical western Atlantic. They are also found in aquariums anywhere you like, being small, bright, placid and generally good-natured.

fairy-basslet-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

Conveniently, the basslet is unlikely to be confused with any other species. Its striking two-tone colour scheme of purple and yellow is hard to miss. The purple front half (which is presumably where the ‘royal’ comes from, being a regal or imperial colour) may also be violet or even blue in some fish and / or in some light conditions. Another identification pointer is a black spot on the dorsal fin. 

fairy-basslet-melinda-riger-grand-bahama-scuba

You’ll notice that the basslet above appears to be upside down. Which is because it is – this isn’t an inadvertent photo-flip. These little fish tend to orientate themselves to be parallel with the closest surface. This leads to them happily swimming upside down, or aligning vertically. As one article I read says severely, “this behaviour is not to be mistaken for illness”.

fairy-basslet-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

Fairy basslets / royal grammas are also CLEANER FISH. They pick parasites and dead skin off larger fish that visit so-called cleaning stations to be attended to by tiny fish and cleaner shrimps, and in some instances to have their gills and even their teeth cleaned. The deal is that, in return, the large fish do not eat the cleaners. Even snack-sized ones rootling around inside their mouths.

fairy-basslet-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

 WHAT ABOUT BREEDING?
I really can’t improve on this rather touching description from Wiki: “The male will build the nest among rocks using pieces of algae. The male will then lead the female to the nest, where she will deposit 20-100 eggs in the nest. During the breeding period, this behaviour is repeated almost every day for a month or longer (my italics). The eggs are equipped with small protuberances over the surface with tiny threads extending from them which hold onto the algae of the nest and keep the eggs in place. The eggs will hatch in five to seven days, normally in the evening…”

fairy-basslet-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

HOW COME THE NAME ‘GRAMMA LORETO’?

This official name became a brainworm with me after I started this post. I had to check it out. The ‘Gramma’ part is unrelated to the fond name for a grandmother; rather, it simple denotes a member of the genus of fishes in the family Grammatidae.

The Loreto part is more mysterious. It is an an ancient town in Italy; and the name of several British schools, including – almost too good to be true – a school called Loreto Grammar. In a nutshell, the link between the town and places of education is that the Sisters of Loreto, founded in the c17 and named for a shrine in the Italian village, are dedicated to education in their Ministry.

How that ties in with a tiny Caribbean reef fish, I have yet to find out. I probably never will… Here’s a short video to alleviate the disappointment.

I failed to be able to resist finding out whether any country of the world has a purple and yellow flag. The answer is, no. However I am delighted to be able to report that the flag of the Independent Party of Uruguay is basslet-coloured.

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Credits: all fantastic photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; magpie pickings of an unacademic sort for facts and speculation

‘SEXING THE HUMMER’: A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER’
A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

The drastic effects of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco’s birdlife continue, with recent reports suggesting that all species remain affected, and some severely so. However there are signs of a slow improvement, and this good news includes the two hummingbird species, the endemic Bahama Woodstar and the Cuban Emerald. A couple of recent posts on FB indicate that sightings of both these species have been a very welcome surprise. So, a good time to write about them and to show their beauty.

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco (Charlie Skinner)

The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage and recognition. And there are only two species – and two genders for each one – to wrestle with. So here are the adult male and female Bahama Woodstars and Cuban Emeralds in all their glory…

BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)
Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Tom Sheley)

 

CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

And finally, a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I spans the boundary between wildlife photography and art. 

Bahama Woodstar female. Abaco Bahamas . Tom Sheley

Header Image: Keith Salvesen

ELKHORN CORAL – REEF LIFE . ABACO . BAHAMAS


 

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

ELKHORN CORAL (Acropora palmata) is a widespread reef coral, an unmistakeable species with large branches that resemble elk antlers. The dense growths create an ideal shady habitat for many reef creatures. These include reef fishes of all shapes and sizes, lobsters, shrimps and many more besides. Elkhorn and similar larger corals are essential for the wellbeing both of the reef itself and also its denizens. These creatures in turn benefit the corals and help keep them in a healthy state.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Examples of fish species vital for healthy corals include several types of PARROTFISH, the colourful and voracious herbivores that spend much of their time eating algae off the coral reefs using their beak-like teeth. This algal diet is digested, and the remains excreted as sand. Tread with care on your favourite beach; in part at least, it will consist of parrotfish poop.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Other vital reef species living in the shelter of elkhorn and other corals are the CLEANERS, little fish and shrimps that cater for the wellbeing and grooming of large and even predatory fishes. Gobies, wrasse, Pedersen shrimps and many others pick dead skin and parasites from the ‘client’ fish including their gills, and even from between the teeth of predators. This service is an excellent example of MUTUALISM, a symbiotic relationship in which both parties benefit: close grooming in return for rich pickings of food.

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CRISIS

Formally abundant, over the course of just a couple of decades elkhorn coral (along with all reef life) has been massively affected by climate change. We can all pinpoint the species responsible for much of the habitat decline and destruction, and the primary factors involved. In addition, global changes in weather patterns result in major storms that are rapidly increasing in both frequency and intensity worldwide.  

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

Physical damage to corals may seriously impact on reproductive success: elkhorn coral is no exception. The effects of a reduction of reef fertility are compounded by the fact that natural recovery is in any case inevitably a slow process. The worse the problem gets, the harder it becomes even to survive, let alone recover, let alone increase. 

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

HOW DOES ELKHORN CORAL REPRODUCE?

There are two types of reproduction, which one might call asexual and sexual:

  1. Elkhorn coral reproduction occurs when a branch breaks off and attaches to the substrate, forming a the start of a new colony. This process is known as Fragmentation and accounts for roughly half of coral spread. Considerable success is being achieved now with many coral species by in effect farming fragments and cloning colonies (see Reef Rescue Network’s coral nurseries)
  2. Sexual reproduction occurs once a year in August or September, when coral colonies release millions of gametes by Broadcast Spawning 

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

All photos: Melinda Rogers, with thanks as ever for use permission

Elkhorn Coral, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?): THE FROGFISH


Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?): THE FROGFISH

I have just been lightly involved in a long online thread showcasing the weirdest / most science fiction-y creatures around the world. Trust me, there are plenty. There were quite a few duplications. My own contribution was the frogfish, which no one else had nominated. They are so special – and so weird – that I am reposting my article about them. Don’t miss the last video!

frogfish-anglerfisch

This ‘WTF?’ series started with a relatively conventional species, the REMORA. It has been getting progressively more bizarre. We moved onto an omnium gatherum of WEIRDO FISHES, then the remarkable LETTUCE SEA SLUG, and most recently the BATFISH. Time to ramp up the stakes: with many thanks to scuba expert Adam Rees for use permission for his terrific photos, I present… the FROGFISH.

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

The frogfish is a kind of anglerfish found in almost all tropical and subtropical oceans and seas. There are about 50 different species worldwide, covering an astonishing range of strange appearances. They generally live on the sea floor around coral or rock reefs. In size they vary from tiny to about 15 inches long – although ‘long’ is a flexible concept because they are to an extent shape-changers in height and width.Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

FROGFISH SUPERPOWERS YOU MAY WISH TO HAVE

  • INVISIBILITY CLOAK . Frogfish are masters of disguise and camouflage. This enables them to catch their prey with minimal effort and also to avoid predators. Their camouflage methods – broadly known as ‘aggressive mimicry’ – include
    • Ability to change colour for days or even weeks to mimic their surroundings
    • Getting covered in algae and other organic matter that matches their habitat or
    • Looking inherently like a plump rock or in some cases, plant

Fear for the life of the spider crabFrogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

  • IRRESISTIBLE ATTRACTION
    • A sort of frontal dorsal fin called an illicium to which is attached a
    • Lure called an esca which may mimic a worm, shrimp or small fish etc and which is
    • Retractable in many species and
    • Regenerates if it gets mislaid

The ‘dollop of cream’ thing is the esca. Note the characteristic large mouthFrogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

Spot the escaFrogfish (wiki)

  • BUOYANCY CONTROL & SHAPE-SHIFTING
    • Most frogfish have a ‘gas bladder’ to control their buoyancy.
    • Some species can change shape or even inflate themselves by sucking in quantities of water in a so-called defensive ‘threat display’.

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Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works) Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

HOW DO FROGFISH REPRODUCE? 

Although not conventionally attractive creatures, frogfish clearly manage to reproduce. Little is known about the techniques in the wild, but one is probably ‘with care’, especially for a male frogfish who may not survive for long if he hangs around after fertilisation has taken place. It has been noted that females tend to select far smaller males to fertilise their huge numbers of eggs, perhaps for that very reason.

Frogfish (Adam Rees, Scuba Works)

FROGFISH FEEDING SKILLS – GOOD OR BAD?

When deploying the lure, potential prey that comes too close to that wide mouth stands no chance. A frogfish will strike in a fraction of a second. Frogfishes have voracious appetites for crustaceans, other fish, and even each other. I can do no better than borrow this vivid description of a feeding frogfish:

“When potential prey is first spotted, the frogfish follows it with its eyes. Then, when it approaches within roughly seven body-lengths, the frogfish begins to move its illicium in such a way that the esca mimics the motions of the animal it resembles. As the prey approaches, the frogfish slowly moves to prepare for its attack; sometimes this involves approaching the prey or “stalking” while sometimes it is simply adjusting its mouth angle. The catch itself is made by the sudden opening of the jaws, which enlarges the volume of the mouth cavity up to twelve-fold, pulling the prey into the mouth along with water. The attack can be as fast as 6 milliseconds. The water flows out through the gills, while the prey is swallowed and the oesophagus closed with a special muscle to keep the victim from escaping. In addition to expanding their mouths, frogfish can also expand their stomachs to swallow animals up to twice their size.

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HOW DO FROGFISHES GET AROUND? SWIM? WALK? CRAWL?

Frogfishes do not in fact move around a great deal. Using their camo advantages, they prefer to lie on the sea floor and wait for prey to come to them. As mentioned in the quote above, they may slowly approach prey using their pectoral and pelvic fins to “walk” along the sea bottom. They can swim using their tail fin (or in some species by simple ‘jet propulsion’ by forcing water out of their gills) but rarely do so – they don’t feed on the move, and they are adapted to the sea floor environment where they food is readily available. However their “walking” ability is limited to short distances.

frogfish-anglerfisch

DO FROGFISH HAVE OTHER COLOUR SCHEMES?

Indeed they do. In stark contrast to the camo species, some frogfishes are highlighter bright. Here are two of my favourite photos by Adam that show this clearly. I’ve no idea if these are a male and female. I suspect they are different species. I think the brown one is a striated frogfish and the other is… a yellow frogfish. Some people keep these creatures in  aquaria, but apparently it is impossible to sex them, and they have to be kept on their own for everyone’s peace of mind…

Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works) Frogfish (Adam Rees Scuba Works)

FROGFISH INFOGRAPHICS

frogfishFrogfish Infographic 'Monsters of the Deep'

FROGFISH VIDEOS

These two videos, from Lester Knutsen and Daan Van Wijk respectively, show some of the characteristics I have written about above. Both are short and both are fascinating.

To read more about frogfishes and for some fabulous photos I highly recommend the website FROGFISH.CH You can reach the main page(s) but the link seem to be broken so I have not been able to contact Teresa Zubi, whose site it is. She clearly has a sense of humour and uses a neat pair of gifs which I hope she won’t mind my using…

Credits: All main photos, Adam Rees  of Scuba Works with many thanks; wiki for ‘spot the esca’, red quote & basic info; videos Lester Knutsen & Daan Van Wijk; Teresa Zubi for website & gifs; infographics, authors u/k

Frogfish Tee Shirt

SPERM WHALE CALF, ABACO, BAHAMAS: WHY WORLD WHALE DAY MATTERS


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

WORLD WHALE DAY 2022

NEONATE SPERM WHALE CALF, ABACO, BAHAMAS

 

After many decades of the savage depletion of the global whale population, the tide turned in their favour in the 1960s. It was fair to assume that, gradually, a new era of cetacean recovery must follow and that whales would be accorded the respect they deserve. Over time, many organisations were formed with the specific aim of protecting and conserving marine mammals, the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) based on Abaco among them.

The struggle to fulfil that aim in the face of entirely man-made environmental damage has become increasingly difficult. However, there have more recently been encouraging reports of population recovery in some seas, a good reason to celebrate WORLD WHALE DAY and to consider supporting the many organisations that work to preserve marine mammals. 

The photographs and the 2 very moving videos below are of an adult sperm whale and new-born calf. They were taken by BMMRO in Bahamas waters. There’s optimism in these images. I’d like to think that a smiling baby whale holds out hope for the future. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. If it does not, the overwhelmingly likely cause will be mankind, either directly or indirectly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

CREDITS: Close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO 

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

ABSORBING SPONGES ON THE BAHAMAS REEFS…


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ABSORBING SPONGES ON THE BAHAMAS REEFS…

It is a rather special and indeed specialist day today: it is #spongethursday, a component of the 11th World Sponge Conference (I’d add the logo, but it closely resembles a pink Covid symbol). Poriferaphiles everywhere should be celebrating these beautiful creatures today. Here are some gorgeous examples. Now you know why sponges deserve a day of their own.

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Candelabra Songe (with brittle stars attached)candelabra-sponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scubasponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

Black Ball Spongesblack-ball-sponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copy

One for Valentine’s Dayheart-shaped-sponge-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

Vase Spongesvase-sponge- pink-melinda-riger-gb-scubavase-sponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

sponges-and-coral-on-the-reef

Spawning Brown Encrusting Spongebrown-encrusting-sponge-spawning-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba – with thanks as ever

HERMIT CRABS: SHELL-DWELLERS WITH MOBILE HOMES


Hermit Crab, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

HERMIT CRABS: SHELL-DWELLERS WITH MOBILE HOMES

As everyone knows, Hermit Crabs get their name from the fact that from an early age they borrow empty seashells to live in. As they grow they trade up to a bigger one, leaving their previous home for a smaller crab to move into. It’s a benign** chain of recycling that the original gastropod occupant would no doubt approve of, were it still alive… The crabs are able to adapt their flexible bodies to their chosen shell. Mostly they are to be found in weathered (‘heritage’) rather than newly-empty shells for their home. [**except for fighting over shells] 

Hermit Crab, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

 HERMIT CRAB FACTS TO ENLIVEN YOUR CONVERSATION

  • The crabs are mainly terrestrial, and make their homes in empty gastropod shells
  • Their bodies are soft, making them vulnerable to predation and heat.
  • They are basically naked – the shells protect their bodies & conceal them from predators
  • In that way they differ from other crab species that have hard ‘calcified’ shells / carapaces
  • Ideally the shell should be the right size to retract into completely, with no bits on display

Hermit Crab, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

  • As they grow larger, they have to move into larger and larger shells to hide in
  • As the video below shows wonderfully, they may form queues and upsize in turns
  • Occasionally they make a housing mistake and chose a different home, eg a small tin

Hermit Crab, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

  • The crabs may congregate in large groups which scatter rapidly when they sense danger
  • The demand for suitable shells can be competitive and the cause of inter-crab battles
  • Sometimes two or more will gang up on a rival to prevent its move to a particular shell

HERMIT CRABS CAN EVEN CLIMB TREES – WITH THEIR SHELLS ON TOO

Hermit Crab, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

HERMIT CRABS EXCHANGING HOMES with DAVID ATTENBOROUGH

This is a short (c 4 mins) extract from BBC Earth, with David Attenborough explaining about the lives and habits of these little crabs with his usual authoritative care and precision . If you have the time I highly recommend taking a look.

Credits: All photos taken on Abaco by Keith Salvesen except for the tree-climber crab photographed by Tom Sheley; video from BBC Earth

Hermit Crab, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS: BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS


Cookiecutter Shark mouth, jaws & teeth (BMMRO Bahamas)

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS

BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS

The Cookiecutter shark Isistius brasiliensis (aka the less scary, more genial sounding ‘cigar shark’), might be an ideal candidate for a Room 101 nemesis.** These little beasts – a species of dogfish shark – are found in several mainly island-based areas dotted around the globe, including in Bahamas waters.

 

HOW COME THE NAME?
These sharky little b@st@rds (*scientific term*) attack marine mammals and fishes, attaching themselves by suction and gouging out perfect round plugs of skin and flesh, leaving what are sometimes called ‘crater wounds’. Then they eat them. Imagine getting hold of a really sharp domestic cookie cutter with circular rows of razor-sharp teeth, and grinding it hard into your thigh. There! That! 
The size of an adult shark:16″ max
The term ‘cookiecutter’ is also a pejorative slang term, meaning mass-produced, lacking in originality, or boringly samey, as in cookiecutter cars or TV genres etc. The little critters under consideration here are anything but…
                        

HORRIFYING COOKIECUTTER FACTS

  • Live in the depths, rise vertically in the day & dive back down at dusk
  • Undersides have light-emitting ‘photophores’ which emphasise…
  • …the dark collar which acts as a lure, resembling a small innocent fish
  • Bioluminescence lures prey & confuses predators (more on this below)
  • The glow is so strong it may last for some time after removal from water

  • Their lips are ‘suctorial’ = they attach tightly to their target
  • The jaws then gouge out the victim’s flesh in a remarkably neat circle
  • Omni-vicious: any medium to large ocean creature is vulnerable to attack
  • There are even occasional reports of humans being targeted

Here are two Blainville’s beaked whales that I photographed from the BMMRO research vessel. The top whale has a number of circular healed attack marks and a recent one. You can see how deep the gouged hole is. The other has well-healed scars.

Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

  • Multi-toothed: top rows of small teeth, rows of larger teeth on the bottom
  • The lower teeth are the cutters, acting like a saw when locked on
  • See header image and below for full details

    

HOW EXACTLY DO THEY DO WHAT THEY DO?
I can explain it no better than the renowned authority Prof. W. K. P. Dear:  “the suctorial lips ensure a tight seal. It then bites, using its narrow upper teeth as anchors while its razor sharp lower teeth slices into the prey. Finally, the shark twists and rotates its body to complete a circular cut, quite possibly aided by the initial forward momentum and subsequent struggles of its prey. The action of the lower teeth may also be assisted by back-and-forth vibrations of the jaw, a mechanism akin to that of an electric carving knife”.

                 ARE THESE SHARKS ‘PARASITES’, WOULD YOU SAY?

The behaviour of these sharks is an example of a symbiotic relationship between two species that is parasitic. This means essentially that one gains and the other suffers (eg humans & no-see-ums). This is distinct from commensalistic symbiosis, where one species gains and the other is unaffected (e.g. cattle egrets with cattle); and mutualistic symbiosis, where both gain (e.g. cleaner fish & groupers). So, in a word, yes.

  • An ‘ambush predator’: these little sharks ‘hover’ in the water column waiting…
  • They are capable of rapid movement to catch up & latch onto prey
  • They will eat a passing small fish, crustacean or even squid as a snack
  • Sometimes they operate in schools; there is safety in numbers
  • The schools are thought to increase the ‘lure’ effect of the dark collar

A beached whale that’s been heavily targeted

FUN FACT TO COUNTERACT THE BAD STUFF

In the late c20, more than 30 U.S. Navy submarines were forced back to base to repair damage caused by cookiecutter shark bites, either to the neoprene footings of sonar domes or to rubber-sheathed cables. The problems were solved by using fibreglass. Oceanographic equipment and telecommunications cables are also recorded as being damaged by these sharks.

Cookiecutter Shark – the real deal

MONSTERS OF THE DEEP

These great cards from the weirdly spelled WIERD ‘N’ WILD CREATURES provide excellent factual info. Their CCS card is no exception. You’ll find more details here about the effect of the bioluminescence and so on, written as clearly as I might hope to. 

Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)

** “The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.” (George Orwell, 1984). Being in a tank with some cookiecutters might count.

Alright now… the wounds eventually healBlainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: BMMRO – header image; beaked whale photos – Keith Salvesen / BMMRO; Te Ara NZ for the main jaw image; all small images with thanks to Wiki and respective photographers who took the time to upload them for all to enjoy & learn from; ‘wierdnwonderful creatures’ for the monster card; range map from Wiki

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)


Artocarpus altilis - breadfruit (Hans Hillewaert)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)

Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of BREADFRUIT (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population. I think we can all guess the status of the latter at that time.

Breadfruit 2

‘BLIGH’S BLIGHT’ – MUTINY!

Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required in transit, compared to their own meagre rations. So they threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for provoking a mutiny by his conduct (from a strictly legal viewpoint and on the bare facts, not a surprising ruling you might think).

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (Robert Dodd)

This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…

Mutiny_on_the_Bounty_Poster (1935) 220px-Poster_for_Mutiny_on_the_Bounty BLIGH’S SECOND CHANCE

Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish, on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk at the prospect, yet finally he succeeded. However, he completed his journey only for those on the consumption end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and even longer for its culinary versatility to become appreciated. Breadfruit image (Pacific site)

The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay. I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree and its eponymous fruit.

Breadfruit Tree Notice, Hope Town Abaco (Dp PatersonBreadfruit Tree, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.

For those unfamiliar with the fruit and its interior, here it is in both slice and cross-sectionBreadfruit sliced (US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center)

BREADFRUIT IN ART

Breadfruit has (somewhat surprisingly?) received some artistic recognition over the years. Here are a few examples. The first, very jolly, includes early representations of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly; the second is quite dull; the third is instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth is not at all appetising to look at… nor, in the days of adhesive stamps, to lick.

Breadfruit with butterflies (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)Breadfruit (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

                                 Breadfruit (John Frederick Miller)                                  Breadfruit drawing John Frederick Miller

      Breadfruit & related plants used as food (William Rhind (1841)     Breadfruit etc William Rhind (1841)

Breadfruit - Bahamas Stamp

SO WHERE DOES BREADFRUIT GROW NOW?

Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – the fact that Madagascar is a suitable yet not a very good location, for example (not enough rainfall). You will soon find yourself alone…

Breadfruit - the world propagation range

A CULINARY TREAT

Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and un-tasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that… it’s within my shamefully limited culinary skill-set.

Breadfruit Recipe (myrecipefriends.com)

BAKED BREADFRUIT

Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

A PERFECT HOPE TOWN BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

BLIGH’S END

Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him. He continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of  ships. He ended up as a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.

V-A William Bligh (1814)

Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London (Geograph, Commons Media

This post was originally published a while back, inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice.

Wyannie Malone Museum Crest, Hope Town, Abaco

HMS BOUNTY II (Full Sails). A 1960 reconstruction (Dan Kasberger)HMS_BOUNTY_II_Full_Sails 1960 reconsrtuction (Dan Kasberger)

Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?


Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANS AT SEA?

I am re-posting this sea fan article as 2021 rolls over into 2022 with much the same disruption, anxiety, and (for many) grief that we were all facing a year ago. The converse and somewhat rhapsodic title reflects the experience of many people since Covid engulfed the world. Life has become simultaneously real and surreal. It continues in many respects as normal yet who would have guessed that as we entered a new decade in 2020, the face mask would quickly become an essential (or anyway a medically recommended) part of daily life and remain so? 

This post was written at a time of sunshine, normality and optimism, before Covid and even before the violent destructive force of Dorian in autumn 2019. Here’s some cheer from sea fans on the coral reefs of the Bahamas.  

GALLERY OF GORGONIANS 

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

The waters of Abaco teem with myriads of fish that depend on the coral reefs for shelter and safety, for breeding, for growing up in, and for nourishment. Sea fans (or gorgonians, to use the technical name) are animals too. They may look like plants and stay rooted to the spot, but like anemones these ‘soft corals’ are creatures of the reef and essential indicators of its health.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The purple sea fan Gorgonia ventalina (classified by Linnaeus in 1785) is one of the most common species of sea fan, and a spectacular one at that. The main branches are linked by a lattice of smaller branches. Below the ‘skin’ is a skeleton made of calcite compounded with a form of collagen.

Purple sea fan, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Sea fans are filter-feeders, and have polyps with eight tiny tentacles that catch plankton as it drifts past. They develop so that their orientation is across the prevailing current. This maximises the water passing by and consequently the supply of food as the fans gently wave in the flow.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Gorgonians have a chemical defence mechanism that protects against potential troublemakers. The main effect is to make themselves unpleasant to nibble or uproot.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One species impervious to this deterrent is the fascinating FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAIL. Other ‘safe’ species include the fireworm and BUTTERFLYFISHES.

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

One benefit of sea fans to mankind is that their defensive chemicals have been discovered to provide the basis for drug research and development, specifically in the field of  anti-inflammatories. Another benefit, of course, is that they are very beautiful to look at. And in bad times, that can only be good .

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

Credits: these wonderful photos were taken by Melinda & Keith Rodgers / Dive Abaco, Marsh Harbour; and Melinda & Fred Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba. Huge thanks to them all for allowing me to freely use their skilful underwater photography in this blog for the best part of a decade.

A SPECIAL FAN FOR A HAPPY AND HOPEFUL 2022

Purple Sea Fans, Abaco, Bahamas (Dive Abaco / Keith & Melinda Rogers)

ABACO PARROTS: CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS


🎼 …and a parrot in a gumbo limbo tree…🎶 🎵

 ABACO PARROTS: CHRISTMAS-COLOURED BIRDS

A VERY HAPPY FESTIVAL OF FESTIVITY TO ALL FOLLOWERS OF ROLLING HARBOUR…

…AND TO EACH AND EVERY RANDOM DROP-BY TOO…

…AND HOPE, HEALTH & HAPPINESS &  FOR 2022

Abaco Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credits: Gerlinde Taurer & Nina Henry: photographed on Abaco, Bahamas for “The Birds of Abaco”

 

CHRISTMAS BUNTING(S) . ABACO . BAHAMAS


BUNTING(S) FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

painted-bunting copy

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)

Few birds radiate Yuletide vibes better than Painted Buntings, with their perfect festive colours. Here is a seasonal flock of them to enjoy. A very happy Christmas to those who kindly continue to visit Rolling Harbour, despite the unavoidable absence from the Bahamas of the Harbourmaster.

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copyPainted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy                                                     

Painted Bunting reflection, Laguna Seca.South TX Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

 

painted-buntingimagesimagesimagespainted-bunting copy

Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO by KEITH SALVESEN: final copies available


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

NEW! UNEXPECTED!

There’s nothing like a massive house clear-out (after 42 years) to reveal lost possessions, forgotten treasures, and (for that matter) a few things best forgotten… Last Spring we began to prepare for a house-move, during which I found a box of bird books that I duly reported here (and happily sold). Recently, sorting through a packed shipping container parked in the unlikely setting of a local farm has revealed plenty of surprises, including a couple more boxes of BIRDS OF ABACO. There definitely aren’t any more. There may be one or two people who might like one / who lost their copy during Dorian / who are new to Abaco and its wonderful birdlife. Here is a chance to own one… 

In the spirit of recycling I am reusing the original blurb because it still holds good today. The book is only ‘out of date’ to the extent that since publication about a dozen new species have been reported. Most were seen just the once, some for a few weeks at most. So although exciting, the newcomers were more ‘Birds Passing Through…’ than ‘Birds Of…’ Abaco  

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a

The originator of the idea for the book – as with the entire Delphi Club project – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. He took a risk based on my (then) quite feeble Rolling Harbour blog about the birds and other attractions of the island. The 2kg book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy.

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

As part of the project, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations were given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits was given to local wildlife causes. We quickly sold a great many copies,  and couldn’t have been more pleased with the response to the book, a unique publication for the Bahamas. The captions (below) about the book and content were written much nearer the time, so I’ll leave them as they are. I hope you enjoy the photos even if you don’t want a copy!

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or seed trails were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern_ACH3672 copy

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing

Smooth-billed Ani pair GT

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco

Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club. The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art and architecture books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What were the chances?

BOOK LAUNCH BAHAMAS BIRDING ROYALTY (Tony White, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey), A COMMONER… & AN EMBARRASSING AMOUNT OF REFRESHMENT

Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

BOOK SALE DETAILS
 
I am pricing the books at $120 inc. shipping. They are in England, heavy, and expensive to post. 1/3 of the price will be the flight of the birds across the Atlantic. If you would like a copy and do not already have my contact details, email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
 
 
American Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Photos: Tom Sheley (3,4,9,10),  Bruce Hallett (6,8), Gerlinde Taurer (1,7), Tony Hepburn (5), Keith Salvesen (2,11)

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

THE ORIGINAL FLYER

"Birds of Abaco" flyer

BAHAMAS DOLPHINS: VIEW FROM A RESEARCH BOAT with BMMRO


Recent weather conditions have mostly been perfect for launching the new BMMRO boat and continuing with ongoing marine mammal research. The field work at the moment is one aspect of the ‘Saving Abaco’s Dolphins after Hurricane Dorian’ project.

Acoustic research involves deploying specialised recorders to monitor sub-surface noise levels such as ship-generated sound. This helps to determine the effects of underwater noise pollution on marine mammals. Areas of concern can be identified and monitored. Naturally the dolphins take a keen interest as well, and there is plenty of opportunity to enjoy their company out on the water.

More general research includes compiling intricate records of dolphins encountered, noting specific characteristics. The dorsal fin is generally the most helpful ID marker, as they are all different – especially when there is some wear and tear to go by.

BMMRO records for dolphins go back a long way, and often involve two or more generations of the same family. Amazingly, during the last few days, a dolphin was encountered whose mother was first seen as a calf in 1992…

BMMRO are hosting a meeting in Hope Town to explain recent work and its results

BMMRO intern Jaylen gets to admire dolphins at close quarters in the Sea of Abaco

Dolphin Research . Sea of Abaco . Bahamas . BMMRO – all photos © BMMRO

‘TERN, TERN, TERN’: THE UN-NOTORIOUS BYRD COUSINS


Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘TERN, TERN, TERN’: THE UN-NOTORIOUS BYRD COUSINS

There are twelve species of tern – ‘swallows of the sea’ – that to a greater or lesser extent may be found on Abaco. Whether they will actually  be visible at any given time is less certain, though. For a start, the only resident species is the lovely Royal Tern, available at many locations on Abaco and the cays throughout the year. The rest are migratory or just passing through.

PERMANENT RESIDENTS

ROYAL TERNS Thalasseus maximus PR1

Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

MIGRATORY TERNS: SUMMER

In the slightly less commonly-found category are the summer migrant terns that, by definition, are only in residence for around half the year. Four of these are fairly common in certain areas, and actually breed on Abaco; these include arguably the prettiest of all, the bridled tern. The other two tern species (gull-billed and sandwich) are more rare and as far as I can make out do not breed locally; or perhaps only rarely. 

LEAST TERN Sternula antillarum SR B 1

LeastTern, Abaco Bahamas (Tony Hepburn)

BRIDLED TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2

BridledTern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)BridledTern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

ROSEATE TERN Sterna Dougallii SR B 2

Roseate Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

SOOTY TERN Onychoprion anaethetus SR B 2

Sooty Tern, Duncan Wright wiki

GULL-BILLED TERN Gelochelidon nilotica SR 3 

Gull-billed Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)Gull-billed Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

SANDWICH TERN Thalasseus sandvicensis SR 4

Sandwich Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)Sandwich Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)

MIGRATORY TERNS: WINTER

There is one very rare winter resident migratory tern species, with few records of sightings for Bahamas and until early 2019, no photographic record for Abaco until Sally Chisholm saw one at Treasure Cay and managed to capture it for posterity.

FORSTER’S TERN Sterna forsteri  WR 4

Forster's Tern (Dick Daniels)Forster's Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Sally Chisholm)

OCCASIONAL & RARE VISITORS

A further four tern species are very much occasionals that drop by. Three of them pass over the Bahamas on their longer migration, but may make a pit-stop around Abaco to take on fuel. Likelihood of sighting one? Slender but not impossible… the Caspian tern below was photographed on Abaco. The fourth, the Arctic Tern, is a very rare vagrant, a bird well away from its usual home or migration route as the result of storms or faulty satnav or sheer happenstance. Don’t travel to the Bahamas intent on seeing one.

CASPIAN TERN Hydroprogne caspia TR 4

Caspian Tern Abaco Bahamas (Woody Bracey)Caspian Tern Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

The remaining species are the transient black tern and common tern; and the vanishingly rare vagrant  Arctic tern. No photos of any of these I’m afraid. Here’s a handy checklist of all the tern species.

     ELECTIVE MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Written by Pete Seeger, Turn x 3 was released in 1965, the title track on the second album by The Byrds. At a rather febrile time in US history (Vietnam, draft riots, civil rightists v cops and so on), this unusually palliative and thoughtful song with its religious connotations to some extent stood for peace and hope in a time of turmoil.

PS the somewhat laboured title of this post shoehorns in the name of another Byrds album, ‘The Notorious Byrd Brothers’

Photo credits: Keith Salvesen (1, 2, 3, 5, 18); Tony Hepburn (4); Alex Hughes (10, 11); Bruce Hallett (6, 7, 12); Woody Bracey (8, 13, 16); Duncan Wright (9); Dick Daniels (14); Sally Chisholm (15); Keith Kemp (17)

Royal Tern, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES IN ABACO BAHAMAS


‘CARRION SCAVENGING’: TURKEY VULTURES IN ABACO BAHAMAS

Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) manage to be simultaneously majestic, hideous, revolting and socially vital, all packed into a single species… Right now there is a slew of online excitement about them, although it can’t be because it is ‘International Turkey Vulture Appreciation Day, which is on September 4th. Anyway, it’s always a good time to join a flock of admirers.

turkey-vulture

THE FACTS

The word ‘vulture’ derives from the latin word ‘vulturus‘ meaning ‘ripper’, ‘shredder’, or ‘very loud Metallica song*‘. 

TUVUs have very good eyesight, and an acute sense of smell that enables them to detect the scent of decay (from the release of the chemical ethyl mercaptan) from a distance. A breeding pair will raise two chicks, which revoltingly are fed by the regurgitation of all the rank… oh, you fill in the rest

These vultures are often seen in a spread-winged stance, which is believed to serve multiple functions that include drying the wings, warming the body, and baking bacteria. Possibly it also reduces the miasma of rotting meat that may surround them after a good meal.

TUVUs like best to perch on a vantage point – utility posts or wires are ideal.

You won’t ever hear them sing or call. They lack a SYRINX (the avian equivalent of a larynx), and their vocalisation is confined to grunting or hissing sounds. Here’s a hiss (at 10 / 15 secs).

10 SCAVENGED TURKEY VULTURE FACTS FOR YOU TO PICK OVER

  • One local name for TUVUs is ‘John Crow’
  • An adult  has a wingspan of up to 6 feet
  • Sexes are identical in appearance, although the female is slightly larger
  • The eye has a single row of eyelashes on the upper lid and two on the lower lid
  • TVs live about 20 years. One named Nero had a confirmed age of 37 
  • LEUCISTIC (pale, often mistakenly called “albino”) variants are sometimes seen
Leucistic TUVU
  • TUVUs are gregarious and roost in large community groups
  • They have few natural predators (perhaps for reasons of their hygiene deficiency)
  • Though elegant in flight, and users of thermals, they are ungainly on the ground and in take-off
  • The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can see through the beak
turkey-vulture

REVOLTING CORNER / DEPT OF ‘WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION’ 

SQUEAMISH? THEN LOOK AWAY NOW

UNATTRACTIVE HABITS The Turkey Vulture “often defecates on its own legs, using the evaporation of the water in the feces and/or urine to cool itself, a process known as UROHIDROSIS. This cools the blood vessels in the unfeathered tarsi and feet, and causes white uric acid to streak the legs”. The droppings produced by Turkey Vultures can harm or kill trees and other vegetation. Maybe don’t park your nice car under one of their perching posts…

HORRIBLE DEFENCES The main form of defence is “regurgitating semi-digested meat, a foul-smelling substance which deters most creatures intent on raiding a vulture nest. It will also sting if the predator is close enough to get the vomit in its face or eyes. In some cases, the vulture must rid its crop of a heavy, undigested meal in order to take flight to flee from a potential predator”

DIETARY NOTES TUVUs tend to prefer recently dead creatures, avoiding carcasses that have reached the point of putrefaction. They will occasionally resort to vegetable matter – plants and fruit (you could view this as their side-salad). They rarely, if ever, kill prey – vehicles do this for them, and you’ll often see them on roadsides feeding on roadkill. They also hang around water, feeding on dead fish or fish stranded in shallow water. 

ECO-USES If you did not have birds like this, your world would be a great deal smellier and less pleasant place, with higher chance of diseases from polluted water and bacterial spread. TUVUs kept the highways clear and work their way round the town dumps recycling noisome items. Humans need them although, conversely, they don’t need humans.

FORAGING TUVUs forage by smell, which is uncommon in birds. They fly low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, the gas produced by the beginnings of decay in dead animals. Their olfactory lobe in the brain is particularly large compared to that of other animals.

SEX TIPS Courtship rituals of the Turkey Vulture involve several individuals gathering in a circle, where they perform hopping movements around the perimeter of the circle with wings partially spread. In humans, similar occasions are called ‘Dances’. A pair will fly, with the female closely following the male while they flap & dive… then they land somewhere private and we draw the veil…

turkey_vulture2
My favourite graphic of all time

Credits: Craig Nash (1); Keith Salvesen (2);  Nina Henry (3, 5, 6); amy-at-poweredbybirds (4); Charlie Skinner (7); Xeno-Canto / Alvaric (sound file); Birdorable (TUVU cartoon); depressingnature.com (puking TUVU); Source material OS & magpie pickings. Adapted and updated from a previous version written a while back

*As Metallica so appropriately wrote and sweatily sang (luckily there’s no verse referencing urination, defecation and puking). ALERT don’t actually play the video – the song hasn’t aged well! In fact… it’s terrible. Woe woe indeed…

The vultures come
See the vultures come for me
Fly around the sun
But now too late for me
Just sit and stare
Wait ’til I hit the ground
Little vultures tear
Little vultures tear at flesh

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS


Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

GREAT EGRETS: NOBLE (YET MISNAMED) HERONS

The Great Egret is actually a heron rather than an egret. It’s a Great Heron. All egrets are members of the heron family Ardeidae, but the converse is not true. As long ago as 1758, Linnaeus awarded the bird the binomial name Ardea alba i.e. ‘Heron white‘. Why it should have been so hard to stick to that authoritative nomenclature, I can’t imagine. Perhaps in time all heron and egret species became so hopelessly confusing for people that it ceased to matter much what they were called.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Maybe it was that type of carelessness that led to people from the mid-c19 onwards eyeing up GREGs as a source of hat feathers and other decorative necessities. As with flamingos and many other beautiful avian species, mankind’s millinery and other fashion needs were satisfied at the expense of gorgeous plumage. Actually, at the cost of the birds’ lives: they were simply shot in huge numbers. 

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Healthy populations were decimated; for some species they never recovered. For others, the great egret among them, the passage of time and the passing of fashions – backed in many cases with conservation programs – have successfully restored the populations. In 1953 the National Audubon Society, which was formed at least in part to discourage the killing of birds for their feathers, took a decisive step in the cause of the great egret by making the bird the emblem of the organisation.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Photo Credit: Nina Henry photographed all the egrets in this post. Her wonderful images of this magnificent egret heron made a significant contribution to the “BIRDS OF ABACO” project.

Great Egret, Bahamas (Nina Henry)