HAMMERHEAD SHARKS: UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL…


Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)

HAMMERHEAD SHARKS: UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL…

Of all the words that have been devalued and diminished by overuse over the last decade, ‘AWESOME!!!’ must rank high in the top 10. Maybe it’s even made it to number 1. Awesome! Even in the wildest reaches of hyperbole, the offer of a Kalik can never truly be awesome. Nor can a kind and delightful gift. There’s no need to add more examples, because the photos that follow show something that really is awesome in it’s true meaning: the giant hammerhead shark at close – and very close – quarters. Grant Johnson takes astounding wildlife photos in Bimini and far beyond. Take the time to have a look at his page ’60 POUND BULLET’. Now let’s move on to ‘awesomely awesome…’

Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)Great Hammerhead Shark, Bimini (Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet)Hammerhead Shark 1 Bimini's Marine Protected Area Campaign

And yes, there are Hammerheads in Abaco waters. I have occasionally seen small- to medium-sized ones while fishing out on the Marls. In several of the images above, you can see those strange creatures, Remoras, that attach themselves to sharks by suction and hitch a ride. You can read more about them and learn why they do such a foolish thing HERE

Credits: All photos, Grant Johnson / 60 Pound Bullet, with many thanks for use permission

THINK PINK: A RUNCIBLE OF SPOONBILLS


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THINK PINK: A RUNCIBLE OF SPOONBILLS

Healthy happy hungry birds ‘in the pink’. Always a pleasure to see. And when there is a group of them, how often one reaches for the correct collective noun: a murder of crows, an exultation of larks, a murmuration of starlings, a parliament of owls and so forth. Many are historical terms, dating back to medieval times in Europe, and often linked to hunting and falconry. As a rule of thumb, the more recent the term, the more likely to have been invented – especially if there is a comedy undertone.

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The trouble with spoonies is that there is no historic or traditional name for a group of them. In such circumstances, using the term ‘flock’ is generally the safest bet. A quick glance online suggests that modern suggestions are mainly jocularly cutlery-based: a canteen, a measurement, a service, and… a ‘runcible’ (a neat nod to Lewis Carroll). That’s the one I prefer.**

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One thing is beyond dispute: Phil Lanoue takes some of the best bird action shots around, and I’m proud to be permitted to showcase them from time to time. Spoonbills are rare enough these days in the northern Bahamas, so it is good to know that they are thriving not so very far away to the west. Abaco still has occasional spoonbills dropping in – you can see the latest one, found at Gilpin Pond, HERE.

What are you guys looking at?spoonbill-5-9-16-phil-lanoue

Got to get every feather just right…spoonbill-3-9-16-phil-lanoue

**The slightly ill-tempered-sounding baldmonkeyseenabird suggests ‘a repugnance of spoonbills’ but I think he / she may have been having a difficult day…

All photos by Phil Lanoue. Check out his awesome website https://phillanoue.com

I must fly now… see ya!spoonbill-1-9-16-phil-lanoue

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM 

While putting together “The Birds of Abaco” I looked at and archived hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies (and in different parts of the world the categories themselves may be named differently). There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved another outing here. Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves. 

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Magnificent Frigatebird (inflated-throat) (Michael Vaughan)

(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

American Oystercatcher, Delphi, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

(Examples include avocet, black skimmer, oystercatcher, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (impressively, some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Great Egret, Abaco - Tom Sheley

(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

These lists were put together in useful chart form. Please check with BCS (link above) if you want to ‘borrow’ itseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientistImage Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – Keith Salvesen, Michael Vaughn, Tom Sheley

INTERNATIONAL MANATEE DAY SEPT 7



imageHow could I have forgotten? Here we are, just arrived in south-west France, hemmed in by mountains, sea and Spain. Blissful. imageYet there are more important things than mere vacations. Manatees are high on the list of priorities.
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So to celebrate their special day, as the bats flitter above our glasses of Mas Rous, here’s an iPhone post in celebration of these curious – in both senses – and gentle creatures. imagePhotos courtesy of BMMRO, with thanks to Felice for her great Bahamas manatee FB page.image

Credits: BMMRO, the excellent Peppermint Narwhal (logo)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 11: STARGAZER FISH


Star Gazer fish (Adam Rees : Scuba Works)

WTF? (WHAT’S THAT FISH?) 11: STARGAZER FISH

It’s a real shocker! This fish is a serious contender. An A-list horror-fish. The WTF? series has featured some extraordinary, bizarre and frankly unbelievable fish species. Here’s one that might just blow them all out of the water. So to speak. Not only is this fish weird in a number of respects, but it is also dangerous. Behind its eyes it has a special ‘electric organ’ (a “Hammond”?**) that produces a shock when touched. Oh for a superpower like that, even if only to be used defensively. 

“They’re the meanest things in creation,” fish scientist William Leo Smith, who owns a stargazer, told the New York Times. “I was so excited to get it. It’s the worst pet on earth.”

‘Fish out of water’. Note (but do not touch) the area behind its eyes…Northern_Stargazer (Canvasman21 wiki)

The Northern Stargazer Astroscopus guttatus whiles away the long lazy days lying mostly buried by sand, the stargazy eyes on top of its head picking out prey – mostly small fish – to ambush and stuff into its bizarre YKK zip-mouth. It can bury itself in seconds. An adult stargazer may grow to nearly 2-foot of concealed eating machine. They will stay put unless disturbed, confident that a false move by a creature – it could be you in your flippers – will mean it will be in for a shock. 

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10 STARGAZER ATTRIBUTES TO ADMIRE (BESIDES THE ELECTRIC SHOCKS)

  • The strange mouth looks as it does because it is fringed to keep out sand
  • The head-top eyes can be made to protrude to allow a wider field of vision 
  • It ambushes small fish and swallows them whole (see video below)
  • To lure prey, stargazers discharge seawater through their gills… (Reader: why?)
  • It causes the sand to move about – possible lunch is waiting for a fish further up the food chain
  • They are born with eyes on side of the head; they move to the top as they grow from the larval stage
  • They are content to be solitary, except in the Spring (for the usual reasons)
  • Apparently “little is known about the mating behaviours of these creatures”. A pity, I feel.
  • They have no scales, but they make up for that with an impressive 13 anal spines
  • Unimpressed? Well they also have venomous spines near their gills & above their pectoral fins

stargazer-fish.jpg.653x0_q80_crop-smart

WEIRD FISH – AND WHAT’S WITH THE WEIRD NAME?

I wondered that too. The Astroscopus part derives from the Greek, ‘astro’ (star) and Latin ‘scopus’, a conceptual noun combining watching and targeting – think ‘telescope’, or ‘far-target-watching’. The guttatus (L) part simply means spotted or speckled. A Homo guttatus may need mild medical attention.

Stargazer clip (Wideangl)

THOSE ELECTRIC SHOCKS – HOW BAD ARE THEY?

Well. I kinda knew you’d ask so I looked into it. According to the exceptionally cool ‘Monsters of the Deep’ (see credits), the stargazer shock is approximately 50 volts. The British Health and Safety Executive, whose job is normally to interfere with almost every aspect of daily life in the UK (“you are strongly advised not to drink from bottles marked ‘Rat Poison’ portraying a Skull & Crossbones motif, lest disappointment should result”) has assisted: 

A voltage as low as 50 volts applied between two parts of the human body causes a current to flow that can block the electrical signals between the brain and the muscles. This may have a number of effects including: stopping the heart beating properly; preventing the person from breathing; causing muscle spasms.

The exact effect is dependent upon a large number of things including the size of the voltage, which parts of the body are involved, how damp the person is, and the length of time the current flows.

Sadly, you are quite unlikely to find a stargazer in Abaco waters, which lie slightly beyond their fairly limited western Atlantic range. But hop over to Floridian waters, move a bit north, and you might meet one.

**A musical instrument allusion

Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works; Canvasmas21 wiki; Nat Geo Kids;  MONSTERS OF THE DEEP (cool underwater site to check out!); Casey Patton / FMNH; Mother Nature Network (inc for video); Wideangl (clip)

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY? YAY! AN ABACO COMPETITION!


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 7

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY? YAY! AN ABACO COMPETITION!

In the past I have occasionally offered a Kalik™ (half in jest) for a ‘right answer’ or a nugget of info. Anyone who didn’t get their beer can still claim it, of course [no, no, not all at once please…]. But now I’m getting serious. World Shorebird day is on September 6th, and this weekend sees a global shorebird count in which, it is hoped, large numbers of people will scan their shorelines and post the results on the great and good resource that is eBird

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But you don’t need to go to those lengths. Here’s the deal. Is there a bit of beach near you (hint: on Abaco you’ll never be far from a beach or shoreline except in the National Park)? If the answer is yes, then can you spare an hour (or two?) to take a walk on the beach over the weekend?  Or Monday and Tuesday? If so, can you look for a particular rare bird that makes its home on Abaco for the winter? Great. You’re in the competition, then. And there’ll even be a PIPL-related prize…

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 1

THE (SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE) RULES

  • go for a beach walk, taking a notebook, pen, a camera or even just a phone. Binoculars would be good.
  • look for tiny shorebirds that look like the birds in this post
  • count how many you see at a time (watch out, they move quite fast). Maybe 1 or 2. A dozen is the likely max.
  • check their legs for coloured flags or bands and if possible note the colours and any numbers / letters
  • if possible, take photos of the bird(s), showing legs if banded. Don’t worry too much about quality – enhancement is possible
  • tell me about what you found and send me any photos (see below)

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

  • Size – very small (6″ – 7″) and usually busy
  • Legs – orange
  • Beak – black, possibly with a hint of orange at the base
  • Eyes – black and beady, with a streak of white above
  • Front – white / very pale
  • Underside – ditto
  • Back – greyish / brownish-tinged
  • Head – ditto
  • Tail – darker feathers at the end
  • Neck ring – a greyish hint of a partial one (they are black in summer)

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 8

WHERE WILL I FIND ONE?

  • On a beach or maybe a rocky shoreline
  • Out in the open on the sand, anywhere from back of the beach to the shoreline
  • Foraging in the tide margins
  • Rushing round in a seemingly random way
  • Taking a dip in a sea-pool (see above)
  • On a rock near the sea

Piping Plover (nb), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

In an ideal world, all the details below. But I’d be really pleased just to find that you had seen a piping plover on your chosen beach. Even the knowledge that a particular part of the shoreline is favoured by the birds is valuable for their conservation. The most useful info is:

  • Date, name of beach, approx location (‘north end’).  Time would be good too, and whether tide high, mid or low
  • Number of piping plovers seen (if any) and how many banded / flagged (if any).
  • Impression of bands if unclear: ‘I think it was… a green flag / an orange ring / a metal ring’ or if visible…
  • ‘One was green flag 2AN on it’ / ‘one had bands – left leg upper leg orange, right upper leg light blue…’
  • Take a photo. This will help eliminate other species of shorebird from the ID, and enable a close-up look

Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)6

WHAT’S THE POINT OF BANDING & TRACKING THEM?

Marking a plover with coloured bands or flags (or a combo) gives a unique ID to each bird. Usually it will be done on the beach where they hatched, within a day or two. These adornments weigh nothing, do not impede the birds in foraging or in flight (or when mating…) and expand as they grow. The scientists who carry out the banding will have weighed and measured the hatchling and made a detailed record of the data collected. They need to get as much information as possible about the habits of each bird to help with conservation initiatives at both ends of the migrations.

piping-plover

Each fall the plovers travel south between 1000 and 2000 miles south from their summer breeding grounds. Tracking individual birds to where they overwinter enables scientists to build up a picture of the type and location of fragile habitat that these little birds prefer, and to compare the annual data for each banded bird. For example

  • A particular beach does not seem to attract piping plovers at all (there may be several good reasons for this)
  • A particular beach has single or small groups of piping plovers who come and go but don’t settle there
  • A particular beach usually has at least one or a few birds on it who show ‘beach fidelity’, eg Winding Bay
  • If birds are found in groups – more than 10, say – in a particular location, it means the beach suits the breed especially well. It is sheltered, has plenty of scope for good foraging, few predators, and has not been spoilt by humans. Long Beach (Island Homes) is a good example. Last December, groups of more than 60 were found there. It’s a *hotspot*!

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

GIVE US AN EXAMPLE, PLEASE

Last season a bird called Tuna (see photo above) arrived at Watching Bay (Cherokee) in at the end of August. He moved from time to time to the Cherokee mud flats and Winding Bay, but mostly he remained at Watching Bay until April. His unique banding colours and their positioning led to the following information

  • The precise coordinates of location of the nest where he hatched in New Jersey
  • The date of hatching, banding, fledging and the last date he was seen there before migrating to Abaco
  • The name of the banders, plus his weight and the length of his body, wings, legs and beak
  • Even the names of Tuna’s parents. In fact, mother Paula headed to the Bahamas too –  she was resighted on Joulter Cays, Andros last winter.

Tuna was not reported over this summer – he didn’t return to his ‘birth beach’ – but we believe Tuna is now back at Watching Bay The distant photos were not clear enough to make a positive and definite ID. On the next visit we may know for sure, and all because of the bands. And we’ll know that he likes Abaco enough to fly back 1200+ miles to the same beach as last year. We can conclude that Watching Bay provides a suitable and safe habitat for Piping Plovers.

Piping Plover 1, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

  • Potential ‘fun for all the family (nb best leave the dog at home for this adventure…)
  • Exercise in a lovely beach setting
  • Seeing a rare and vulnerable bird in its natural setting
  • Wonderment that such a tiny bird should fly many miles & choose Abaco to overwinter
  • Assisting in logging the beach presence of the birds so that researchers know where to look
  • Helping count the birds so that year-on-year comparisons of the population can be monitored
  • Getting appreciation and thanks
  • Being described as a ‘Citizen Scientist’
  • Winning a prize if your are the most successful finder of banded birds, as verified by photos

Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’ll post details of sightings on ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH with credited photos. Later I’ll follow up with a ROLLING HARBOUR post summarising the results, listing the participants and their scores of both unbanded and banded birds, and naming the winner of the PIPL-themed prize to mark their glory…

Contact me via APPW, DM me on my FB page, or email me at rollingharbour.delphi [at] gmail.com

GOOD LUCK!

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Credits: Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper, Gyorgy Szimuly (WSD logo)

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: W.I. WOODPECKER CHICKS (PT 2)


West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: W.I. WOODPECKER CHICKS (PT 2)

In just a few days, the West Indian WOODPECKER CHICKS have become bigger, noisier and much hungrier. Their heads are now tinged with red. They have started to compete for food: the first chick to push its way to the entrance hole gets the most food. Often there will be a smaller or weaker chick that gets rather left out in the frantic rush for grub (make that ‘grubs’ – see header image). But I suspect quite a lot of food shrapnel gets dropped and spread around inside the nest, so that in the end all the chicks are well sustained.

Rhonda Pearce has been taking photos of this growing family over the last few days, and if you saw my post last week, you will notice that the size of the chicks and the size of the food morsels jammed down their eager gullets has increased considerably…

A lizard hangs on tightly to the parent’s beak… but sadly it is doomed to be dinner…West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Mmmmmmm. It’s so tasty, little one…. and even if it isn’t, it’s going inWest Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Hey, kids, who wants a bug with wriggly legs and feelers?West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

What do we want? Food! When do we want it? Now!West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

“Wishin’ and hopin’…”West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

“Is there any left for me…?”West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

RELATED POSTS

HUNGRY WIW CHICKS (PT 1)

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS

WIWs AT DELPHI

Credits: all photos, Rhonda Pearce