AFTER THE STORM: ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Melissa Maura)

ABACO PARROT

AFTER THE STORM: ALL THINGS BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL

For tens of thousands of people, the past 2 weeks have been dominated by one cruelly aggressive female: Irma. In terms of a lucky escape, Abaco’s gain was elsewhere’s pain. Recently, only the vivid Wunderground trackers I have posted have stood out from the bleakness of the ominous clouds, pounding waves, and sluicing rain. With the prospects for Hurricane Jose wandering around in the mid-Atlantic looking increasingly good, it’s time for a look at something more cheerful.

Birds can lighten the spirit. As yet, I’ve seen few reports of how the birds on Abaco have fared, but the ones I have seen have been encouraging. A west-indian woodpecker back on his usual tree; a piping plover foraging on the beach at Winding Bay, even as the storm raged; bird business more or less as usual at Delphi. No news yet of Abaco’s iconic parrots, which will have most likely headed to the National Park for cover. They usually manage OK. The header image is a tip of the hat to them, their raucous beauty, and their healthy recovery from near-extinction over the last few years.

Here’s a small gallery of some of Abaco’s most colourful and striking birds for some light relief. Have a nice day!

Painted Bunting, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBananaquit, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenWestern Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas - Craig NashWhite-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenCuban Emerald Hummingbird, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenBahama Woodstar, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBlack-necked Stilt, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyCuban Pewee, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith SalvesenOsprey, Abaco, Bahamas - Tom SheleyBahama Yellowthroat, Abaco, Bahamas - Gerlinde Taurer

Photo Credits: Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Melissa Maura; Painted Bunting, Tom Sheley; Bananaquit, Keith Salvesen; Western Spindalis, Craig Nash; White-cheeked (Bahama) Pintail, Keith Salvesen; Cuban Emerald (f), Keith Salvesen; Bahama Woodstar, Tom Sheley; Black-necked Stilt, Tom Sheley; Cuban Pewee, Keith Salvesen; Osprey, Tom Sheley; Bahama Yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer. Storm tracker, Wunderground

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE


Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

CLAPPER RAILS ON ABACO: A SMALL SHOWCASE

Just over 3 years ago, THE BIRDS OF ABACO was published and launched at the Delphi Club. The book was intended to showcase the wonderful and varied bird life on Abaco – home to endemics, permanent residents, seasonal residents, and a wide variety of migrating transients. The book has been most generously received and supported – though I have to report that already its definitive checklist (dating from 1950) has become outdated with the recording of 6 additional species on Abaco, featured elsewhere in this blog.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Tom Sheley was one of the main photographic contributors to the book, and I had the good fortune to coincide with one of his trips to Abaco, when he was armed with significant photographic weaponry; and to accompany him on some of his photographic day trips (not including the early morning ones, in my case). This clapper rail is one of my favourites of his photo sequences of a bird being a bird – preening, stretching, calling – in its own habitat.

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

My one regret about my involvement  in producing the book (it took 16 months) and more generally in the wildlife of Abaco is that I have entirely failed to progress to sophisticated (expensive) photographic equipment capable of producing images the quality of Tom’s. Yes, I’ve moved on from compacts (ha!) to bridge cameras (Panasonic Lumix + lens extender), and some results ‘make the cut’. But my move up to a Canon SLR was mainly disastrous, and when eventually I inadvertently drowned it (I overbalanced while photographing shorebirds from breaking waves. Total immersion. Total stupidity.) I felt an unexpected sense of relief. A blessing really – I never understood it, nor in my heart of hearts (if I’m honest) really wanted to… But my feeble struggle made me realise and appreciate the enormous skill of those like Tom who take ‘National Geographic’ quality photographs. It’s not just the equipment – it’s knowing exactly how to use it, and often in a split second…

Clapper Rail, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley / Birds of Abaco)

Photos by Tom Sheley – with thanks for the adventures

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (38): SPOTFIN BUTTERFLYFISH


Spotfin Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (38): SPOTFIN BUTTERFLYFISH

Butterflyfishes are a large family of mainly colourful small fish somewhat like mini-angelfish. The spotfin butterflyfish (Chaetodon ocellatus) is one of several types of butterflyfish found in the western Atlantic Ocean; and one of half a dozen or so you are likely to see nosing around the coral reefs of the Bahamas.

Spotfin Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

The name ‘spotfin’ derives from the dark spot on the dorsal fin. At the front end, there is a distinctive black vertical stripe that passes right through the eye. Combined with the vivid colouring, predators are in theory confused or warned off.  The spotfin’s superpower (on a modest scale) is that at night, a change of appearance occurs in adults. The dark patch on the dorsal fin increases in size, and dark bands appear on the body. This seems to be in order to provide further protection during the darker hours.

Spotfin Butterflyfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

The spotfin above has an isopod attached to it, a type of crustacean with a segmented body. Primitive fossils of these creatures have been dated back some 3m years. Want to know want this one is up to? These things “are mostly external parasites of fish or crustaceans and feed on blood, having piercing and sucking mouthparts and clawed limbs adapted for clinging onto their hosts”.

Soldierfish photobombs a spotfin. Or maybe it’s vice versa?Parasitic species are mostly external parasites of fish or crustaceans and feed on blood. The larvae of the Gnathiidae family and adult cymothoidids have piercing and sucking mouthparts and clawed limbs adapted for clinging onto their hosts.

Reading about this particular species of  butterfly fish, I discovered that the spotfin “is very common and very hard to maintain in a tank” –  as if the two facts are somehow connected. So might they be coarse or vulgar, and thus unsuitable companions for better bred and perhaps sensitive aquarium fish? As it turns out, it may be because they are vulnerable to predation, and so can coexist only with peaceable tank friends. 

Spotfins are perfectly happy swimming upside down; and their party trick apparently is to rise to the surface and squirt a jet of water in the air. Sadly, I couldn’t come up with a photo of this…

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LONGSNOUT BUTTERFLYFISH

REEF BUTTERFLYFISH

Credits: All fab photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahamas Scuba

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON ABACO: BEACH NOSHING


Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

RUDDY TURNSTONES ON ABACO: BEACH NOSHING

Some birds are named for the sounds they make (bobwhite, chuck-will’s-widow, pewee, killdeer). Some are named for their appearance (yellow-rumped warbler, painted bunting). And some are named for what they do (shearwater, sapsucker – but definitely NOT killdeer). The ruddy turnstone Arenaria interpres is in the last two of these categories: it looks ruddy and it literally turns stones to get at the goodies underneath.

Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

And they don’t just turn stones to look for food. Someone with a lot of patience has defined 6 specific methods by which a turnstone forages for food:

  • Turning stones by flicking them with its beak
  • Digging using its beak to flick away sand or earth (see video below)
  • Routing around in piles of seaweed to expose food under it
  • Surface pecking with short, shallow pecks for food just below the surface
  • Probing by simply sticking its beak deep into soft sand or ground
  • Hammer-probing to crack open a shell and get at the occupant

Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

In these photos taken on a rather gloomy day on the Delphi beach, a combination of mainly digging and routing is going on. Note the sandy beak of the RUTU below, right up to the hilt.

Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Ruddy Turnstones, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

This short video shows how effective the RUTU method is. It was fascinating to watch the team work their way through and around the piles of weed on the beach, flicking sand vigorously in their quest for sandflies or whatever. Watch the sand fly! Pity it wasn’t a sunny day – the photos might have looked a bit more cheerful… 

 

All photos Keith Salvesen

EYES ON STALKS: CONCH WATCH ON ABACO


Conch Man-o-War Cay, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

EYES ON STALKS: CONCH WATCH ON ABACO

This is not so much about you looking at, and admiring (without salivating too much, I trust) conchs in their natural element. More about them watching you watching them – and focusing on their rather remarkable stalk-based eyes. Take a look at these examples of the ‘watcher in the shallows‘ (to misquote a well-known book title).

Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

HALF A DOZEN CONCH EYE FACTS TO PONDER

  • The eyestalks are attached to an extendable ‘snout’
  • The two eyestalks (ommatophores) are retractable within the shell
  • Their purpose is to provide a wider field of vision around the shell
  • The eyes at the tip of each eyestalk have ‘proper’ lenses, pupils and irises 
  • Amazingly, amputated eyes normally regenerate completely
  • The small projection below the eye is a ‘sensory tentacle’ or feeler

Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Conch and their eyes, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

CAUTIONARY WARNING

For a rather depressing view of the current state of conch populations, check out this recent article in the MIAMI HERALD. Not a great deal to be optimistic about…

I’M WATCHING YOU…

CREDITS: All remarkable ‘conch watching’ photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba – except for the wonderful header image by Charmaine Albury (contributor the The Birds of Abaco), taken on Man-o-War Cay; Cindy James Pinder for the heads-up for the Miami Herald article

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROTS: GETTING FRUITY


Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

ABACO (CUBAN) PARROTS: GETTING FRUITY

To be honest, the header image is not the sort of ‘fruity’ I had in mind, which was intended to have an entirely dietary connotation. I’m not quite sure what these two are up to – not procreation, I think, in that precarious situation. It looks non-aggressive… so maybe just having fun and… er… hanging out together.

Here are some Abaco parrots doing what they love to do in between group squawking sessions: gorge themselves on fruit, and getting at it any which way. 

Upside down is really just a different angle to get at fruitAbaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (Melissa Maura)

Noshing on berries

One in the beak, next one ready in the claw

Tackling something more substantial

More acrobatics

And eventually out on a limb…

All great parrot photos by Melissa Maura, with thanks as always for use permission

DOLPHINS DISPORTING IN THE BAHAMAS


Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

DOLPHINS DISPORTING IN THE BAHAMAS

‘Disporting’. Not a word I’ve used very often. Or possibly ever. It looks a bit like ‘unsporting’, which is emphatically what dolphins are not. Basically, it just describes what dolphins are doing when you see them on the surface: amusing themselves, frolicking around in the waves, and simply enjoying themselves.Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

True, they are probably keeping an eye out for food… But when you have a group sociably following alongside the boat your are in, moving in front, dropping behind, diving under, and generally playing around, it’s quite hard to believe that these are completely wild creatures. They seem to be performing just for you, simply because they want to. You don’t even have to throw fish at them to earn this free display.

Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO) Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

As is well-known, the BAHAMAS MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH ORGANISATION (BMMRO) is the custodian for the welfare of these beautiful creatures for the entire Bahamas. However, being based on Abaco and carrying out the majority of the research from the HQ at Sandy Point means that many of the great images that get taken are from Abaco waters. Indeed some are taken within swimming distance (not mine) of the shore.  Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

The photographs featured here were taken during the last few weeks. Some are of the familiar bottlenose dolphins. The others – with speckled undersides clearly visible in the header image & below – are of Atlantic spotted dolphins. There’s even one of my own taken from the research vessel. Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atlantic Spotted Dolphin, Bahamas (BMMRO)

For the researchers, the most important part of an individual dolphin is its dorsal fin. Unique patterns of cuts and scars mean that each dolphin sighted can be logged and their profiles built up. Some have been found in the same area for many years. They are not usually given jocular names – ‘Davy Jones’, ‘Finny Phil’ or whatever. The first time we went out on the research vessel we were slightly surprised by the practical, scientific calls during a sighting of a dolphin group: “there’s B4 again” and “over there – D5 is back”. All said fondly however – many of the dolphins are old friends.

This dolphin has a notable notch on the dorsal fin with a nick below, & a scar line – with a prominent white scar on the lower front edge Bottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas - Dorsal Fin Damage (BMMRO)

Notice how these 3 dolphins all have quite different fin profiles.  The nearest one’s fin looks unblemished, but has a paler tip. Powerful binoculars and a serious camera can pick out small  differences at a distance that the eye could notBottlenose Dolphin, Bahamas - Dorsal Fin Damage (BMMRO)

Coming soon: Manatees & Man in the Bahamas

All photos (bar one by me) BMMRO, with thanks to Diane & Charlotte, and a tip of the hat to the current interns involved in the research projects (Hi, UK Thomas!)