The Northern Parula is one of 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco. The vast majority of these species are migratory, arriving in the Fall and leaving in the Spring to fly north to the breeding grounds. When I’m back at HQ from my computer-free break, I’ll be writing more about these little birds. Meanwhile, this post is a reminder that the influx will begin very soon. The Northern Parula, with the distinctive green patch on its back, is sure to be among them.
SPERM WHALES TAILING: ABACO, BAHAMAS
There can be very few people in the world whose breath would not be taken away by the sight of a massive sperm whale tailing close by. And as it happens, this very phenomenon can be seen in the deeper waters around the coast of Abaco. Here is a small gallery of photos of sperm whales tailing, taken from the BMMRO research vessel. There’s no point in my writing a lot of commentary to the images – they speak for themselves of the awesome (in its correct sense) power and grace of these huge mammals.
In these images, you will notice that the whales have distinctive patterns of notches and tears in their flukes (ie tail fins). As with a dolphin’s dorsal fin, these areas of damage are like fingerprints – unique to each individual, and a sure means to identification. The researchers log each sighting and assign a cypher – a whale will become known as ‘B42’ and not usually by a less scientific name like ‘Derek’ or ‘Susie’).
One of my favourite whale views is of the tail as it rises above the surface with water streaming off the flukes, before it flicks over and disappears beneath the waves.
A juvenile takes a dive alongside an adult. One day that tail will be massive…
Credits: all photos © BMMRO, with thanks as ever to Diane and Charlotte
SHARPNOSE PUFFER FISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (47)
It’s more than 4 years since I last wrote about these intriguing creatures and their endearing ways. It’s time for another look, with a new batch of great photos too. This is a species that lends itself to the ‘Fun Fact’ treatment, a method that tells you at least as much as you probably need – or want – to know about puffers. The message to take away is, best not to handle one – let alone eat one – unless you know exactly what you are doing…
10 PUFFER FISH FACTS TO ASTONISH YOUR FAMILY & FRIENDS
1. Puffers can inflate their bodies in an instant by ingesting huge amounts of water and becoming water-filled balloons. Then their tiny spines stick out.
2. They need a startling form of defence (or ‘piscatorial superpower’ Linnaeus 1763*) like this because they can’t swim very well to escape from predators: it’s surprising and intimidating – and it also makes them hard to eat.
3. However, a persistent predator undeterred by the trick will find that the puffer contains a toxin (tetrodotoxin TTX) that is said to be ‘1,200 times stronger than cyanide’. One puffer fish has enough toxin to kill up to 30 humans (National Geographic).
4. Notwithstanding the risks, selected parts of a puffer fish are a delicacy in some cultures (known as ‘fugu’ in Japan). Specially trained chefs are used to avoid mass deaths among diners. The insurance premiums must be huge.
5. Sharks are thought to be the only species immune to the puffer fish, and are not much bothered by a small fish that can blow itself up.
6. Puffers have skin, not scales; most have toxic fins or spines of some sort, besides toxic innards. Bright coloured kinds are likely to be more toxic than their duller cousins. This warning colouration in creatures is known as aposematism.
7. It’s worth finding out what an uninflated puffer looks like before you try to pet a random passing fish and have a toxic encounter. There is as yet no known antidote.
8. In all, there are more than a hundred puffer species in the world, all found where there are warm shallow waters. At least 3 main species – sharpnose, band-tail and chequered – are found in the Bahamas.
9. Some puffer species are not toxic at all; and some – especially in Pacific waters – are far more toxic than others. That’s the region where they are treated as a delicacy.
10. I’ve checked several research papers but I can’t find an evaluation of the relative toxicity as between the Bahamas puffer species. However it’s clear that the sharpnose is certainly not one play with. Take care!
Q. SO WHAT DOES AN INFLATED PUFFER LOOK LIKE? A. THIS!
* Not really
RELATED POST: PORCUPINE FISH
Photo Credits: All puffer fish taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba except for the photo of an inflated one from recent Abaco permanent resident Brian Lockwood
‘CASTING ABOUT’: A TRICOLORED HERON HUNTING
‘Casting’ is one of those words with multiple meanings, some archaic but most in use today. You can probably think of half-a-dozen straight off *. ‘Casting about’ is one of the specific usages and derives from hunting, eg hounds casting about for a scent. By extension, it has come to mean something like searching intently or thoroughly for something you need, or want, or are having difficulty in finding. Which is where this tricolored heron comes into the picture.
It’s always entertaining to watch a heron or egret fishing. Their methods range from standing stock still and suddenly stabbing downwards to slowly wading to the crazy dash that reddish egrets sometimes do on the edge of the mangroves. This one is hooding its wings, sometimes called ‘canopy feeding’. The theory is that this attracts small fish by providing shade. I also wonder if this method is used to reduce glare from the surface of the water.
The bird in this sequence is a juvenile, and not yet the lethal hunter that it will soon become. It has seen a fish moving but has temporarily lost it (fishermen will be familiar with the mild feeling of annoyance when this happens). So it is casting about, slowly zig-zagging through the water, looking from a height, crouching down, trying to get a good view of its elusive snack. I can’t say that this little episode ended in success. Sometimes, the fish you sight and then lose has gone for good. But as fishermen often say when they lose one (and by extension the phrase is now applied to other areas of human life), there are always plenty more fish in the sea.
* Even without considering Mr Weinstein and his allegedly unusual casting methods
Photo credit: Phil Lanoue, a photographer who specialises in patiently taking sequences of bird activity
BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (11): LONG-TAILED SKIPPER & NORTHERN CLOUDYWING
Two butterflies caught my attention on the same afternoon. The first was a Long-tailed Skipper Urbanus proteus, a species I have featured before. The other was new to me – the Northern Cloudywing Thorybes pylades. New to me in the sense that I have never managed to get near one that stayed still enough to photograph. You know how butterflies are – they use their antennae to detect when there’s a camera about, and redouble their skittishness and wing speed.
All photos: Keith Salvesen
BANANAQUITS: SMART BIRDS ON ABACO
Bananaquits are smart. They look smart, of course, and they act smart too. Their diet consists mainly of nectar and fruit, so you’ll find them where there are flowering or fruiting trees and shrubs. Their sharp little beak curves slightly, enabling them to get right into where the good things are, as shown in this sequence of not-especially-good-so-I’ll-call-them-illustrative photos. And that beak gives then another method of reaching nectar – they can pierce the base of a flower and use the beak as a sort of probe to get at the nectar that way. And soft fruit? Easy!
All photos: Header, Craig Nash; the rest, Keith Salvesen – all at Delphi, Abaco Bahamas
MARINE POSTER COMPETITION FOR ABACO KIDS
BMMRO recently collaborated with Dolphin Encounters Marine Education Poster Contest in a competition for schoolchildren on Abaco. There were 3 age groups, 3 -5, 6 – 8, and 9 – 12. The young participants received the excellent BMMRO marine educational poster as a prize, though I suspect they were motivated not so much by a prize but by the fun possibilities of the challenges set for them.
And how well they met them. I am featuring a selection of the prizewinners as posted by BMMRO on FB and Insta. Bearing in mind the ages of the artists, the results are astounding. As someone for whom the task of drawing a stickman presents insurmountable difficulties of perspective, proportion, form and accuracy, I am in awe of the inventiveness of these young minds and their artistic skills. They’ve done a fantastic job in highlighting the critical conservation issues facing all marine creatures large and small, with an awareness that I hope will help stay with them into adulthood.
Do I have a favourite, I asked myself. Actually, no – I’d just be proud to have any of these on my wall. And I bet the teachers and the families involved all feel the same.
HUGE CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL THE WORTHY WINNERS