From time to time I come across historic maps of the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular. Many were included in a post I wrote some time ago about the maritime and geographic importance of Hole-in-the-Wall, HERE. Almost all pre-c20 maps of the Bahamas contain insights into the maritime and geo-political history of the islands that are worth investigating. One that recently caught my eye is a map dated 1778 from Italy, published in Venice, with the excellent title “Il Paese de’ Selvaggi Outauacesi, e Kilistinesi Intorno al Lago Superiore”, attributed to Antonio Zatta, John Mitchell and G T Raynal.  “The title translated, might read, “The Country of the Savage Ottowas and Christineaux on the shores of Lake Superior.” Except for Ile Royale, the large islands in the lake are fictitious. The somewhat distorted outline of southern Florida in the inset is in keeping with general lack of British knowledge about this area” Portinaro & Knirsch 

Zatta was a Venetian cartographer who produced some important maps in the 1770s and 1780s, including a 4-volume atlas of the world. Mitchell was a geographer and botanist, best known for the first comprehensive map of eastern North America (1755); Guillaume Thomas Raynal was a French writer and journalist most famous for his treatise on the ‘philosophical and political history of the establishment of commerce by Europeans in the the two Indies’, a work that was considered controversial (it was banned in France, and copies burned). 


Lake Superior, with the ‘Supplemento alla Florida Orientale’ inset – a strange juxtaposition…abaco-map-zatta-1778-sm


The ‘eastern Florida’ inset conveniently happens to include the northern Bahamas. Staying with Fl. for a moment, of note is the inclusion of C. Canaveral, spelled then as now. Key Biscayne is also shown. I wondered about the place marked Tartarughe Secche – ‘Dry Turtles’. It is now Dry Tortugas National Park. “Mostly water, this remote park features abundant marine & bird life plus a 19th-century fort. It comprises 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Loggerhead Key has a lighthouse and sea turtles. On nearby Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship, is a popular dive site. Bush Key is a nesting site for seabirds like sooty terns.”** I suspect that these coral reef islets were marked on maps in days before lighthouses because of the hazards they posed to navigation at sea; and because, like Hole-in-the-Wall on Abaco, they were useful navigation aids.



Unacknowledged in both the map and the inset titles, are the northern Bahamas islands. We can pass by Bimini, Andros and (Grand) Bahama which, apart from distinct oddities of scale, shape, and location are more or less as one might expect for the period. Let’s look at some details of the depiction of Abaco. 


  • ABACO(A) The first geographical jolt comes not from the well-known fact that historically, present-day Abaco was originally called Lucaya (or variations), but that (New) Providence was called Abacoa. Adding to the confusion, some early maps also show certain cays as ‘Abaco’, ‘Abacoa’, or in the case of Tilloo Cay in 1815, ‘Aboca’, possibly through errors or misunderstandings. This map is one of the few I have seen that shows both the mapped transition of Lucaya (or its variants) to Abaco; and of Abaco(a) to Providence. If anyone has any idea why this came about, I’d be pleased to know!
  • HITW? The next surprise is that Hole-in-the-Wall, an established and mapped nautical landmark for some decades, is not marked. Shown on maps since at least 1738, this is the first map I have found – other than the most basic – that does not feature HITW (in whatever language) or ‘Lighthouse Point’. An odd omission.
  • PORTO PICCOLO’s inclusion is interesting because it continues a tendency – eg 1738, Couvens & Mortier – to show Little Harbour as the only named settlement, though by 1778 there must have been others. LH was clearly a place of some significance, and this presumably had a nautical explantation: the harbour is perfectly placed to offer protection and a safe refuge in stormy weather.
  • CANAL DELA BALENA refers to what, by the early c20, was called ‘Whale Cay Channels’ (below), by which time it was more accurately mapped. Other c18 maps also show ‘Chenal Whale’ and ‘Whale Channel’, but considerably north of the actual location. But in those days, even the outline of Abaco and the location of the cays was usually endearingly wonky.whale-cay-abaco-map-crop
  • BARRA DI DUCHTWRECK I haven’t been able to find out much about this location, or the wreck that gave it its name. A map by Thompson (1815) calls it ‘Dutch Wreck Bar’, and I can only assume that at some time in the early c18 – or even the c17 – a Dutch vessel came to grief on the reef. I need to look into this more. Someday. Oddly, the modern Italian for a reef is barriera not barra. Maybe the word has changed over time, or the usage barra then was colloquial; or perhaps in mapping terms it was a generally accepted abbreviation.
  • I MIMBRES This reef or shoal area of is usually mapped as Matanilla Reef, Maternillo Bank or Reef, or variants. In 1656 this area – presumably dangerous for shipping – was the scene of a dramatic tragedy involving a treasure ship, the flagship of a fleet. I dug up reports of the events in Portugese which baffled ‘Google Translator. I was bailed out by an article about treasure hunter Robert Marx and his findings:


If you have got this far at all, or even with the assistance of 2 or 3 Kaliks, thanks for bearing with me. The old Abaco maps are fascinating, and of course once one begins to dig, so more stuff emerges… and so on.

Credits: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, / Cartography Associates – in particular for licensing non-commercial use of material via a Creative Commons License; magpie pickings from multiple open-source sites.

**Dry Tortugas National Park review comments are eclectic and include “Crystal clear water, lots of wildlife, nice people and such a cool fort”; “The Dry Tortugas area first gained significance after the War of 1812” and “Constant nice breeze and comfortable night time temperatures for sleeping.”


Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)


Lubbers Quarters is a Cay off the southern tip of Elbow Cay, and home to the excellent Cracker P’s restaurant. Also, home to Larry Towning, who takes terrific sunrise and sunset photos, among other subjects that include birds. He recently happened upon a Turkey Vulture sitting on a POISONWOOD stump (do not rush to try that – you may not sit down again for weeks). I like the immediacy of these. Most TUVU shots – by me, anyway – are (a) flying – usually coming out as silhouettes; or (b) atop a utility post with wires in the way, or (c) on the ground scavenging something revolting in the way of carrion. This bird is only dreaming about doing that.

“WARTS AND ALL…”Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can right see through (and as I have previously noted, some humans also suffer from MSS  – missing septum syndrome. They tend to sniff a lot)Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

LUBBERS QUARTER CAY        Lubbers Quarters Map

NOT SAD… JUST THINKING ABOUT DEAD DECAYING THINGS TO EATTurkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

To read much more about Turkey Vultures, find a bundle of interesting facts and learn about their sex lives and frankly disgusting habits with urine and vomit, check out ‘CARRION SCAVENGING‘.

Photo credit: Larry Towning; Tropicat (Poisonwood link)


Matterhorn from Domhütte - 2.jpg


The header photograph is in fact nothing to do with Abaco. Apologies for any confusion. You can put away your ice axe, crampons or skis. It’s the Matterhorn, towering over the border of Switzerland and Italy, complete with high altitude, year-round snow and sub-zero temperatures. Abaco has its own skiing, of course, but solely of the watery sort.

I was curious as to the exact location of Abaco’s highest point. There are a couple of rocky hills in the pine forests of South Abaco that I thought might be candidates. All sources I checked agreed that the altitude is a dizzying 134 feet, with some equating that with 40 metres and others with 41. It would be nit-picking to use the straight conversion of 40.8432 metres. I am that nit-picker.

A site called PEAKBAGGER is useful for such queries. Click on the link and it takes you to the Abaco entry; elsewhere on the site there is a mass of remarkable worldwide altitude information that you could easily spend an hour or 2 investigating.


  • Elevation: 41 meters / 134 feet
  • Name: “Unnamed High Point” [according to John Bethel, it is known locally as ‘Pidgeon Hill’]
  • Latitude/Longitude: 26° 34′ 6” N; 77° 8′ 14” W 26.568399, -77.137319
  • 3rd highest point in the Bahamas
  • 54th highest point in the Caribbean
  • 1014th highest island point in the world
  • Nearest high point is on Eleuthera
  • No ‘ascents’ by registered ‘Peakbaggers’ (this is now on my bucket-list for personal achievements – and it’s an easy start on the way to fame and the conquest of Everest).


Peakbagger’s map places the high point close to the Highway north of Marsh Harbour. Although the land relief shown on the Peakbagger map suggests a higher ridge to the north-west of the red circle, it is in fact only 30 metres high.Abaco High Point Map 1

Quite a while back I contacted Sandy Estabrook, éminence grise behind the wonderful ABACO ESCAPE website. Within a very short time he got back to me with a clipping from a nautical map, confirming the high point’s location as the one given by Peakbagger. Abaco Nautical Chart

Far more importantly, it turned out that Sandy actually ascended the summit in 2009 with a friend and without oxygen. His expedition journal states simply:

“Heading South along Queens Hwy, Frank pointed out a hill on the Sea of Abaco side of the road. It had quite some elevation of over a hundred feet or more it seemed. I have not seen a higher place in all of Abaco. And atop the hill was a tower that I was told was built by real estate interests some years ago for prospective clients to view the surroundings. We climbed the tower and I took a couple pics”. 

The tower will be familiar to travellers passing by on the Highway. I had read that this was a good place to look out for birds, and had assumed it was some sort of fire-watching tower. The use of a tower to scope out land for development is an ingenious one, but the landscape remains undeveloped. Here are some photos from the vantage point taken on Sandy’s expedition.

View roughly south-east from the tower to Hope Town. The lighthouse is visible to the right.Frank View from Tower 84 copy

Looking north-east, with Great Guana Cay just visible on the horizonFrank View from Tower 82 copy

The view north(ish) along the ridge, with the Highway snaking up to Treasure CayFrank View from Tower 83 copy

AERIAL VIEWSMount Abaco 5 copyMount Abaco 3 copy


Turn east off the Highway and take the spur road to the right. Park at the wider area near the end. Prepare for a scramble up. If there is – or was – a path to the top, I expect it’s overgrown now, unless for some reason it has been cleared. And if anyone undertakes the challenge, it would be fun to post your account of the adventure plus views from the top – especially looking west.

Thanks to Sandy Estabrook and to Peakbagger

 Abaco Escape logoPeakbagger Logo

This is a rijig of a post I did in 2013, because it fits in with my new ‘Landmarks’ series. Also, I (luckily) have loads more followers these days. If there have been any significant changes to the location, I’d be pleased to hear and amend accordingly. And if there are any other local names for the hill, I’ll add them. 


Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)


The photos you see in this post were all taken by Hitoshi Miho during an amazing 3 days of diving with Brian Kakuk deep in the pine forests of South Abaco. It’s not the first time they have explored together the wonders that lie beneath those hundreds of acres of pines and scrub; I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The most spectacular cave systems are the adjacent Ralph’s and Dan’s Caves. These systems are believed to be linked, and I know Brian has been trying to find where they meet – a difficult and dangerous task carried out underwater many metres below the forest floor, and requiring sophisticated diving equipment and great expertise. 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

The latest 3-day exploration involved 12 dives and nearly 30 hours underwater in Ralph’s Cave. Narrow passages open out into massive caverns filled with wonderful and complex crystal stalagtites and stalagmites formed over eons. I hope you enjoy examples from the ‘Rooms’ and passages, many with exotic names (Glass Factory, Ninja Passage, Erabor); some more prosaic (Fred’s Room). Then try to imagine that you are actually swimming there.

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

I shall be posting some more photos in due course showing some of the details of the cave formations – intricate patterns, delicate tracery, irridescent colouring, pencil-thin rods, ‘rock’ folds that look like the finest linen. As always I am immensely grateful to both intrepid divers for use permission. I won’t pretend that these thrilling caves are easily accessible – this is emphatically not an adventure to try unguided with a snorkel and flippers. But as you drive along the highway past miles of forest, it’s worth reflecting that far below you are some of the most magnificent cave systems anywhere in the world – right there, on your very own island… 

Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk) Abaco's Underground Caves (Hitoshi Miho, with Brian Kakuk)

As it happens, the Delphi Club is very close to these caves, which lie within the boundaries of the newly created ‘South Abaco Blue Holes Conservation Area (see map). This is one of several such conservation areas on Abaco and in the wider Bahamas that are designed to protect the natural resources of the islands from development and exploitation. The second map shows how tantalisingly close Dan’s and Ralph’s caves are… and suggests that further exploration may lead to the missing link.

abaco-caves-map-jpgAbaco Caves Ralph & Dan jpg

Finally, here is a 4-minute video of one small part of the exploration, which gives a very good idea of what is entailed in investigating the narrow passages and huge cathedral-like caverns. Welcome to the Fangon Forest…

Hitoshi Miho, Ralph's Cave, Abaco


Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)4


In past posts I have mentioned what an excellent birding place Gilpin Point has become. There’s the large pond; and right beside it, dunes, the other side of which is a fine secluded beach and the ocean. The place is a magnet for birds of all shapes and sizes, from brown pelicans down to the tiny endemic Bahama woodstars. There are water birds, wading birds, shorebirds and coppice birds. It has become a place where Abaco parrots regularly congregate. You can reach the Gilpin FB page HERE.

A while back, there was a rare visitor, a Flamingo that stayed a few months then disappeared again. It was in some ways a sad reminder of past flamingo glory days, when they were commonly found on Abaco. Now they are confined to Inagua apart from the occasional vagrant. For more on the the topic, with wonderful photos by Melissa Maura of the breeding season on Inagua, click HERE. Another rare vagrant – formerly quite plentiful on Abaco – was recently found at Gilpin by Keith Kemp, who skilfully managed to get photos of it from some distance away: a Roseate Spoonbill.

Roseate Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)2

I have featured spoonbills before in a post IN THE PINK, but the photos were taken on New Providence by Woody Bracey. I had no Abaco spoonbill photos. To be fair, we did once see one while we were bonefishing far out on the Marls. It was on the edge of the mangroves a good distance away, and the pale pink tinge caught my eye. My photo with an iPhone 4 (the one with the risibly cr@p camera – remember?) was so utterly pathetic that I dumped it (the photo, I mean, but the phone soon followed). But we knew what we had seen, and that was enough.

roseate-spoonbill                roseate-spoonbill               roseate-spoonbill

STOP PRESS 1 I should add that a friended visited the pond after the side-effects of Hurricane Joaquin had receded, and the spoonbill had gone. So the spoonbill alone would not make the journey worthwhile!

STOP PRESS 2 A check of eBird reveals that a handful of spoonbills have been reported in Northern Bahamas this year, about 6 in all. Almost none before that. I have the impression that birding intensity in The Bahamas, coupled with the ease of uploading reports to eBird, will increasingly make a difference to the incidence of sightings of uncommon and rare species, cf the recent WHIMBRELS of Grand Bahama.

Spoonbill, Gilpin Pond, Abaco (Keith Kemp)3


Gilpin Point is just south of Crossing Rocks. The brackish pond – sometimes an alarming reddish colour that I assume is algal – is just inland from the shoreline and provides a wonderful haven for birds. It’s a long mile from the highway. There is no vehicle nor even human traffic apart from occasional birders and walkers. Please note that the drive and the property are private. However Perry Maillis is always welcoming to tidy birders who (as I have written elsewhere) bring only enthusiasm and take only photographs (though a picnic on the beach is worth considering. And maybe a swim…). 

Helpful location mapsGilpin Map 1 Gilpin Map 2 Gilpin Map 3


A brief list includes regular visits from parrots. It’s the only place we have found a furtive little sora skulking in the reedy margins. It’s a reliable spot for herons and egrets of every kind, white-cheeked (Bahama) pintails by the score, black-necked stilts and lesser yellowlegs. Occasionally a northern pintail, ruddy duck or merganser. Turkey vultures. Limpkins. We’ve seen belted kingfishers, Bahama woodstars, cuban emeralds, american kestrels, Bahama swallows, doves, pigeons, western spindalis and many more coppice birds besides. One flamingo. One spoonbill. Pelicans have been seen on the rocks on the beach. Shorebirds include turnstones, sundry plovers & sandpipers, and oystercatchers. You may well see tropicbirds and frigate birds off-shore, and assorted gulls and terns. I can’t personally be more species-specific  because I have never ‘shorebirded’ properly there, but I have noticed an impressive mix…

When we launched THE BIRDS OF ABACO at the Delphi Club, we were delighted that Pericles was able to come to the party. He took a few photos and I’m sure he won’t mind my including a small gallery to end with, featuring a couple of the Gilpin entries in his signed copy.

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Bahamas birding nobility: Tony White with Caroline Stahala; Woody Bracey & Bruce Hallett

Credits: Keith Kemp for the great spoonbill photos; Perry for the Delphi photos


Hurricane Joaquin at dawn from International Space Station, Oct 2 (Scott Kelly / ISS / NASA)

Hurricane Joaquin at dawn from International Space Station, Oct 2 (Scott Kelly / ISS / NASA)


Since my post yesterday HERE confirming evidence that Joaquin was hooking out into the Atlantic and away from northern Bahamas, the storm has picked up speed as it now heads for Bermuda. It is also on a direct route to Ireland and the UK, but is already weakening. With the storm now reduced to a Cat. 3, a continuing lessening of intensity is predicted.

In this second – and, I hope, final – post of the hurricane season, the images below show the current state of play early today. I’ll repeat the weather watch links at the end.

Joaquin clears the Bahamas & heads out into the Atlantic towards Bermuda as a Cat. 3 stormHurricane Joaquin Storm path October 3

Forecast eye-path early on Oct 3Hurricane Joaquin Storm path October 3

The remarkable storm path, hooking round over Central Bahamas & going back on itseslfHurricane Joaquin Storm path October 3

The strange beauty of a hurricane captured from spaceHurricane Joaquin over central Bahamas, seen from space







and for local Bahamas news


Credit: 'Watts Up With That

Sources: NASA, NOAA, ISS / Scott Kelly, Wunderground, Accuweather


Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 6


There’s a great deal of information about Hurricane Joaquin flying around the internet right now, which is completely understandable. How quickly things have progressed since Irene in 2011 in the very early days of this blog, when there was little public information and an almost complete absence of information on social media. I posted daily (or more) updates as the hurricane swept up over the Bahamas. In 4 days, and despite communications being largely blanked, I had over 15,000 hits and a mass of questions along the lines ‘Any news of Treasure Cay’; ‘Can you find out how my boat is – Saucy Sue in Little Harbour’; and ‘Hi I’m on Elbow Cay, can you tell my mom in Maine that I’m ok’ [+ email]…

Here is the position today, at 05.00 EDT, according to the various resources that people turn to. Central Bahamas has taken – is taking – a battering and we have the people there very much in mind. But for the northern Bahamas the picture has improved, with the veer of Joaquin’s predicted path to the northeast increasing overnight. This does not mean an absence of strong winds and big waves – these are already being felt. But the most serious area of this Cat 4 hurricane is not expected to pass over Abaco – the direct concern of most readers of this blog. How different from Irene which wrought its havoc right over the island; and Sandy, which took much the same route.







and for local Bahamas news


Anyway, all the best to everyone affected by this fierce storm directly or indirectly, and good luck.

Credit: 'Watts Up With That

Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 1Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 3Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 4Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 7Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 5Hurricane Joaquin Oct 2nd 2Sources: NASA, NOAA, Wunderground, Weather Channel, NYT, Accuweather