LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

LEAST (BUT NOT LAST) SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

There are 23 sandpiper species recorded for Abaco. Of those, 4 or 5 are vanishingly rare vagrants recorded once or twice in recent history (i.e. since about 1950).

Discounting those, the ones you are likely to encounter range from the large  (whimbrel, yellowlegs, dowitchers, stilts) to the small. Or, in the case of the least sandpiper, the least big of all. They are bigly little. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The binomial name of the least sandpiper – Calidris minutilla – is an apt clue to their size, the second part being Latin for “very small”. On Abaco, they are fairly common winter visitors, and each season a handful of them make their home on the beach at Delphi, where these photos were taken. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Along with their small sandpiper compadres such as SANDERLING, these busy, bustling birds of the shoreline are the ones known as “peeps” (also as stints). Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Least Sandpipers breed in the northern tundra areas of North America. Like many or most shorebirds, newly hatched chicks are able to fend for themselves very quickly. It sounds unlikely I know, but within a couple of weeks or so they have fledged. Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

The birds forage on mudflats, in the tideline on beaches, and in wrack. They will probe into soft sand, sometimes the full length of their beak. They will even burrow right under weed to get at the concealed goodies. Their diet consists mainly of small crustaceans, insects, and snails.Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: All photos by Charles Skinner (contributor to “The Birds of Abaco”) except the wrack-burrowers above, by Keith Salvesen (also on the Delphi Beach).

Least Sandpiper, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…


Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: DIVERS VIEWS…

Daydream for a moment. Imagine that you had a different occupation. And your new one involved daily contact with spectacular wildlife underwater (this assumes you can swim – debatable in my case). And access to some upmarket camera equipment. And the ability to use it effectively. Oh, and use of a reliable boat. And some sea.

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Say, for example, you joined a dive operation. Then the chances are very high that these wonderful creatures would be a part of your daily 9-to-5. 

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

You wake up with a start. Oh no! Half an hour gone, and that crucial email still half-written… Where did the time go?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

All gorgeous turtles taken by Adam Rees of Scuba Works (slogan: “Land is so overrated”) in the course of his everyday working life. Some people, eh?

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS


Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

AN ‘EXHILARATION’ OF ABACO DOLPHINS

Bottlenose dolphins! Tursiops truncatus! These engagingly playful show-offs of the inshore waters round Abaco are 99.99% adorable**. It’s been a harrowing few weeks in the western Atlantic, and everyone is hoping that the 2017 hurricane season has had enough of causing death and destruction over vast swathes of vulnerable islands and on the US mainland. Some cheer is needed.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Dolphins are good for the soul. And if you are out on a boat watching them – and especially tracking them for a whole day – every encounter reinforces the impression that all the leaping, bow-wave riding, boat under-swimming, and general sociability and interaction is often as much for sheer enjoyment as anything else. 

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Abaco is fortunate in having the HQ of the Bahamas Mammals Research Organisation (BMMRO) based at Sandy Point. That just happens to be an excellent area for bottlenose dolphin spotting in the turquoise shallows. Many sightings are made within clear sight of land. Further south, where the bright blue gives way to darker and deeper water, live the equally frolicsome Atlantic spotted dolphins. The 3 photos above were all taken on the margins of where the colour of the sea changes from light to dark.

Bottlenose Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

I’m a bit of a collector of collective nouns. For dolphins, apart from the matter-of-fact ‘group’ or ‘pod’, there is no exotic word to describe a number of them when they are having fun. No equivalent of ‘exaltation’ (larks), ‘charm’ (goldfinches) or ‘parliament’ (owls). So I’m nominating an ‘exhilaration’ as a candidate to fill the gap…

The photo above shows clearly how individual dolphins can be identified by researchers. All tend to have scars or tears to their dorsal fins that enable them to be distinguished. The closest has distinctive scars near the tip. The furthest has a W-shaped nick at the back. In fact, it could even be Rocky, a well-known dolphin on Abaco that has been sighted over many years. There are regular reports annually. I saw him myself once, in 2012, playing about in Hopetown harbour. 

STOP PRESS To demonstrate how the ID methods work, I’ve now cross-checked with the BMMRO photo ID archive. Here is Rocky’s original dorsal fin ID image (“Tt15”) from October 2010. There’s a W-shaped nick, sure, but my speculation above was wrong because overall the two fins are clearly different…

Rocky the Dolphin Tt15, from BMMRO ID photo archive

** The 0.01%? Dolphins may, rarely, be alarming for divers in circumstances I won’t repeat here (hint: to do with over-friendliness, ok? Yes, the thing that dogs do)

Credits: all photos BMMRO – and taken in the last 2 months

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…

RELATED POSTS

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