WATER DOGS: THE POTCAKES OF SANDY POINT, ABACO


potcakes-at-sandy-point-abaco-1

WATER DOGS: THE POTCAKES OF SANDY POINT, ABACO

Sandy Point is the absolute end. Literally. Abaco’s only highway runs 120 miles from north to south. Towards the end, it hooks around to the west, then back north a short distance to the small community. You can drive on right through the settlement, with its criss-crossing side streets. Best stop driving when you see the ocean: you’ve run out of road.

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Sandy Point is home to the renowned Nancy’s culinary establishment, maybe a half-hour drive from the previous place you could get a meal along the highway. It’s that remote. The menu is elementary, the Kaliks are cold, the view from the verandah is out to the wide sea and the pelicans smashing down into the water off the sand bars. And sooner or later you will find a dog’s head in your lap. This is not part of an unordered Abaconian special menu with a Godfather theme; it’s a potcake looking for chicken. Or fish. Or chips. Or anything edible really.

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The origins of these ‘community dogs’ – no one’s and everyone’s – are many and various, just like their assorted shapes, sizes and colours. You can read about their history, the reason for their name, and about ‘Amigo’, the most famous potcake of all, HERE. There are many of these semi-feral dogs on the island, slinking around the settlements and even the main town. They have a tough life. They are generally ignored or shooed away. But in Sandy Point at least, they seem healthy and well-fed. Nancy’s may have something to do with it…

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The potcakes of Sandy Point make the beach and the sea their playground. If you walk along the strand and round the point, they may tag along for a while. Then they get bored and rush off. When the tide is low, they will trot along the exposed sandbars right out into the sea. Or chase each other into the sea. Or maybe just relax and watch an endemic Bahama swallow flit past.

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There are active potcake rescue schemes aimed at rehoming strays. Spay and neuter clinics are regularly held. The aim seems to be to keep the numbers down with benign control rather than anything more radical. And rehomed animals make excellent pets, being “intelligent, loyal, calm, and resilient”. I’m guessing the potcakes of Sandy Point reckon they have a pretty good life as it is. 

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AND FINALLY… here is a video with a difference: Salty Dog the potcake goes mad on a beach – wearing a GoPro! Great idea…

Credits: All photos by the management

AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’


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AMERICAN KESTRELS ON ABACO: ‘LET US PREY…’

To be honest, I haven’t done these fine birds justice. Barely a mention of them for 3 years. Too much else on the land and in the water to choose from. I posted some of my photos from an outing to Sandy Point HERE. And the kestrel kinsman MERLIN got some attention a while later. Time to make amends with some more AMKE.

american-kestrel-abaco-charles-skinner

As many or most of the images show, utility wires (also posts) are a favourite perch for kestrels. They get an unimpeded view of the only thing that really matters in their lives – outside the breeding season, of course – PREY.

american-kestrel-abaco-2-peter-mantle

In my experience it’s quite rare to see AMKEs on the ground – unless they are in the act of ripping up some hapless rodent pinned to the earth. I was with photographer Tom Sheley when he captured this fine bird in the grass. 

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Tom also took this outstanding photo, on an overcast day, of a kestrel feeding its fledgeling a large insect.american-kestrel-feeding-fledgling-2-delphi-club-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Treasure Cay and its surrounding area makes for a good day’s birding. Although South Abaco, below Marsh Harbour, is the go-to location, TC has plenty of scope for a great variety of species from shore birds to songbirds – including the occasional Kirtland’s warbler. The golf course pond at hole #11 is well worth checking out (with permission at the club house, rarely declined unless there’s an event of some sort). So is the large brackish lake system where you may well find herons and egrets. There’s been a rare (for Abaco) pearly-eyed thrasher there recently. And you may find yourself being watched by a kestrel from a vantage point.

american-kestrel-treasure-cay-abaco-bahamas-6-13-tom-sheley

A richly-coloured specimenAMERICAN KESTREL, Abaco -Nina Henry

A kestrel in streamlined flight, with its feet tucked tightly under its bodyamerican-kestrel-abaco-tom-reed

Bird on the Wireamerican-kestrel-abaco-peter-mantle-copy

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

One of Leonard Cohen’s standards, and a song covered by almost everyone from Johnny Cash to Heathen Gonads*, Bird on the Wire was on the album Songs from a Room (1969). It was a favourite of Cohen’s, who once said “I always begin my concert with this song”. Covers range from the excellent via good, interesting, and strange to outright bizarre. Joe Bonamassa’s take on it (as Bird on a Wire) on Black Rock, is certainly… unusual**.

Credits: Bruce Hallett (1, 10); Charles Skinner (2); Peter Mantle (3, 9); Tom Sheley 4, 5, 6); Nina Henry (7); Tom Reed (8)

american-kestrel-f-abaco-bruce-hallett-img_1222

*not really .    **shows originality & ingenuity -vs- dents his purist bluesman credentials

BLUEHEAD WRASSE: PRIVATE LIFE LAID BARE


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BLUEHEAD WRASSE: PRIVATE LIFE LAID BARE

The bluehead wrasse (or blue-headed wrasse) Thalassoma bifasciatum is a denizen of the coral reefs of the tropical waters of the western Atlantic Ocean. This bright little 4-inch fish is… a wrasse with a blue head. No more and no less. Unless it’s a juvenile. Then it is mainly bright yellow. It’s similar to BLUE TANG (aka ‘the Disney Dory’), which starts life bright yellow and grows up to be blue.

blue-head-wrasse-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copy

The species may be found singly, in pairs or small groups, or in schools.  They have an important role to play in the life of the reef. They are CLEANER FISH, vital to the health and wellbeing of the larger species they attend to, and thus of the reef itself. This is ‘cleaning symbiosis’, a relationship of mutual benefit. The big fish get cleaned; the little fish have a useful function and – importantly for them – therefore don’t get eaten. 

thalassoma_bifasciatum_bluehead_wrasse_san_salvador_island_bahamas-james-st-john-wiki

Having said that, blueheads are of course fair game as a snack for species that aren’t in the market for their cleaning services. And, unfairly, some species that are content to let cleaner gobies runtle around their gills and mouths are not so considerate of the wrasse. Some types of grouper and moray eel, for example.

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TELL US EXACTLY SEVEN BLUEHEAD WRASSE FACTS

  • Juveniles can alter the intensity of their colour, stripes & bars
  • The bluehead wrasse is a ‘protogynous sequential hermaphrodite’
  • All are born female**. Some change sex to male during maturation (see below)
  • Food includes zooplankton, small molluscs and small crustaceans…
  • …and parasites / other juicy bits (fungal growths, anyone?) from bigger fish
  • The main threat to the species is coral reef degradation or destruction
  • The bright colours invite aquarium use, but the trade is not a significant one

** Some sources suggest some are born male and remain male. I’m not sure which is right

A juvenile bluehead (with feather-duster worms) – mostly yellow, with a pale underside
Bluehead Wrasse juvenile (wiki)

THE REMARKABLE SEX LIFE OF THE BLUEHEAD WRASSE

This is an unavoidable topic, I’m afraid. The bluehead’s sex life is the most interesting thing about them, and this is no time to be prudish. It is the subject of extensive scientific research, not all of which I have read since I decided to write about the species last night. Like many human relationships, “it’s complicated”, but in a conch shell it boils down to this:

  • To recap, BWs are born female and as they mature, some become male.
  • Males reach an ‘initial phase’ when they can breed in groups with females
  • Some males grow even larger & reach full colouration. This is the ‘terminal phase’
  • These large males aggressively chase away smaller ones & seek females to pair with
  • Their state of readiness (as it were) is signalled by colour changes
  • This behaviour is similar to that seen in many city centres in a Saturday night
  • The smaller fish have one bonus – their sperm count is higher than a dominant male
  • Prozac tests have shown that the drug reduces a dominant male’s aggression

blue-headed_wrasse_det (wiki)

As the excellent organisation OCEANA puts it: Bluehead Wrasses may reproduce in four different ways throughout their lifetime:  1) as a female in a group spawning event; 2) as a female in a pair spawning event within the territory of a large male; 3) as a small male in a group spawning event; and 4) as a dominant, terminal male in a pair spawning event within its own territory.

A cropped still from a video I took at Fowl Cay marine reserve. I’ve looked at dozens of images online and not found one that was all blue with a yellow end to its tail fin. Maybe it’s not a BW at all. Or it’s a different type of fish completely. Or perhaps it is just an all-blue alpha male.bluehead-wrasse-fowl-cay-mr-abaco

Credits & Sources: Melinda Riger; Adam Rees; James St John; Oregon State edu / Pinterest; Wiki images; self; Oceana; IUCN; magpie pickings

A bluehead wrasse passes the time of day with a gruntbluehead-wrasse-grunt-adam-rees

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” REVISITED: THE LEGEND LIVES ON


PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

“HARRY POTTER & THE MAGIC BAND” REVISITED

THE LEGEND LIVES ON

by ROWLING HARBOUR

It was a bright sunny morning and the sand on the beach was warm under Harry Potter’s bare feet. Although by now an experienced flyer, his recent adventures during his epic 1000-mile journey had left him very tired. All his friends that had undertaken the same long flight were tired too. Now they were enjoying a quiet, peaceful time away from all the dangers they had somehow survived during their scary expedition (see Harry Potter and the Migration of Fear). It would be a long time, Harry said to himself – maybe as long as 6 months – before he wanted to have another adventure like that. He wondered when Ron Peeplo and Hermione Plover would arrive… 

_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)

But the little group on a remote shoreline on Abaco were not as safe as they thought. Unknown to the happy, sleepy plovers on the beach, they were already being stalked by two creatures. This determined pair had one sole aim – to find plovers, to catch them and to carry out scientific experiments on them. That’s three aims, in fact. The editor would surely fix that error later (No – ed.). Would Harry and his friends soon find themselves in mortal peril from these formidable adversaries, these beasts with huge brains, armed with the latest technology? What magical powers would be needed to combat the imminent danger creeping stealthily towards them? The male definitely had a spine-chilling look about him; the female appeared less daunting – but might therefore be all the more dangerous…

TOPO & STEG PIC JPG   piping-plover

Suddenly, Harry felt a terrible foreboding. Fear ruffled his neck feathers and his little left foot started drumming impatiently on the sand. He’d felt like this several times before, like that time a Dark Lord had driven a SUV straight at him on that nesting beach many miles away, the one where he cracked out (see Harry Potter and the Vehicle of Dread). And when the massive dog came and sniffed round the nest when he was a tiny chick (see Harry Potter and the Hound of Horror). Instinctively, he grabbed a magic meat-string from the damp sand, ate it, and took to the air… only to be caught up in some sort of fearsome spider’s web (a mist net – ed.). He was trapped. He struggled bravely, piping out his anger at this cruel trick. But it was no good – he was caught fast, and wriggling only seemed to make it even worse. The massive creatures were running towards him fast, shouting in triumph – they had got Harry exactly where they wanted him – at their mercy…

A Mist Net (if unsuccessful, A Missed Net)Mist Net jpg

Just as Harry had started to believe that his last moment had arrived, an amazing thing happened. Instead of dispatching him with a swift blow to head, as a Dark Lord might have done, he was gently removed from the net and softly held in the female’s hands. His instant fear that she might crush him to a horrible mangled pulp rapidly lessened. Why, she was even talking to him. And those voices. They sounded not so much fearsome as friendly. But were they lulling him into  false sense of security, only to wreak an evil vengeance upon him? (*Spoiler Alert* No – ed.).

Steph the Egger with captive Harry Potter, & wearing the cap of the mysterious ‘Delphi Club’PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Then suddenly things got worse. Much worse. Harry was slowly wrapped in a large white blanket and laid on something that wasn’t sand. Something hard. What were they planning to do with him now. He heard the male – Harry had now concluded that he must be dealing with the Avian Overlord himself, the infamous Todd of Pover, first cousin of Severus Snipe – mutter an incantation: “54 grams. Pretty good. 54 grams. Have you got that”. Yes, they’d taken his dignity and his weight but there had been no pain. Yet. Harry began to relax a little.

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Meanwhile, Steph the Egger was making a strange rattling sound. As Harry was unwound from his shroud he suddenly saw a box filled to the brim with exotic jewels of the most opulent colours glistening in the sunlight. At once, he knew he had to have one of them. A beautiful pink one. One to wear on his leg. One that he could keep for ever. One that would always mean ‘Harry Potter’. That very one on the top. Just there. With the magic number 22 on it in black writing. And Harry started to breathe a special silent Piping Spell: ‘Please pick me up… in your hand… and fit the Magic Two-Two Band…’ 

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

And, miraculously, the spell began to work. First, Harry was gently held as the Magic Band was put round his right leg. At the top, just where he wanted it. Harry shut one eye and repeated the spell.PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Then despite an awful wound from an earlier battle, the Todd of Pover made sure the band was secure and would never come off. It would be there forever – the Harry Potter ID band. By this time Harry didn’t even mind the indignity of being turned upside down.PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Finally, it was done. Really, the jewel was more like a flag than a band. But Harry knew instinctively that it would take a massive effort for his story to be rewritten to make this clear from the start, so he decided to let it pass. Band. Flag. What did it matter. It was his prize, gloriously his. 

And then he was passed to Steph the Egger. Harry presumed she got her name for her ability to find nesting birds in that other place he had flown South from. And now, here she was, holding him tenderly, talking to him and telling him how cool he looked. Even her bright red claws did not seem so frightening now. Except… WHAT WOULD HAPPEN TO HIM NOW?

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

Suddenly, Steph the Egger stood up and Harry found himself several feet above the safe warm sand. Steph held him out in front of her and then, in an instant, he was free… Free to fly away with his beautiful pink jewel band, his special number, and an intuition that wherever he might be, and whoever saw him, they would always know that he was Harry Potter for as long as he lived. Against all odds he had gained… THE MAGIC BAND.

PIPL PINK22 Harry Potter π Stehanie Egger copy

piping-plover

POSTSCRIPT & UPDATE FEB 2017

Harry returned to Abaco on his magic Quidditch stick (no he jolly didn’t, he just flew. OK? Do stop now please – ed.) for his 3rd winter on Long Beach Abaco. He was sighted as follows:

  • 23 Nov  Long Beach, with Pf #36 & Pf #50, also 3rd year returners, & several other banded returners. Keith Kemp
  • 06 Dec  Still in the same group, except Pf #50 absent. Todd Pover
  • 23 Jan  In the same group, Pf #50 still absent. Todd Pover

Harry-Potter-pf22-Long Beach, Abaco, Keith Kemp 19-11-16

PREVIOUS HISTORY

Harry was banded Pf #22 on February 7th 2015 at Long Beach, Abaco, towards the end of his 1st winter there. No one knows where he spent his has spent his summers. He has not been reported anywhere other than Abaco – i.e. along his migration route. All that can be said with certainty is that every 12 months he turns up on the same beach, Long Beach Abaco, in the same place (it is a very Long Beach). 5 other PIPL were originally pink-banded with Harry by a joint National Audubon, Virginia Tech, BNT, and CWFNJ team (pink being the colour used for Bahamas birds). Of those 6, 3 have returned to the same beach twice, and the other 2 once. Some of them have also been tracked to their breeding grounds and on their migrations. And somehow they have all found their way back to the same place on Abaco to overwinter together again for the 2016-17 season.

GENDER NOTE

In fact it isn’t clear if HP is male or female (see below). He might be Harriet Potter. But I have played safe and stuck with the gender implied by his given name…

Harry Potter Pf #22 on Long Beach Abaco, 3 Dec 2015, a year after (s)he was banded there PIPL PINK22 Dec 3 2015 Long Beach Abaco 2 (Stephanie Egger) copy

STEPH THE EGGER EXPLAINS THE NAME, NUMBER & QUIDDITCH PIC

“I helped band this piping plover, and called him “Harry Potter.” I know 22 isn’t Harry’s quidditch number (07), but 22 is for my birthday when I mostly seem to be down in Abaco.”

DISCLAIMER RE HEADER IMAGE I don’t suggest making silly photos of all “named” birds as this is an endangered species that we should certainly take very seriously. That said, I do think that names help people connect to the species and it also aids the researchers in ID’ing (my personal opinion)”.

piping-plover

Credits: Stephanie the Egger, The Todd of Pover, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey & co-banding teams, Keith Kemp, USFWS Mountain-Prairie (PIPL in flight), Birdorable, Rowling Harbour, and star of the show Harry Potter Pf 22 UR. Apologies to JKR for feeble pastiche.

MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES: FRIGATEBIRDS


Magnificent Frigatebirds (m) - Michael Vaughn

MAGNIFICENT FLYING MACHINES: FRIGATEBIRDS

It’s almost exactly one year since I last posted about the Magnificent Frigatebird aka Man-o-War Bird (Fregata magnificens). You can read about their courtship displays, gular pouches, nesting habits, names, uses to mankind (if any), and 10 magnificent facts about them HERE. I’ve included some truncated facts below.

Now is a good time to revisit these wonderful sky pirates, for 2 reasons. The first is that photographer Michael Vaughn has produced some outstanding images of the species. The second is that I have just watched a characteristically superb BBC David Attenborough prog showing frigatebirds robbing tropicbirds of fish – despite them being lodged in the tropicbirds’ throats (for safekeeping…). Here’s the link to the sequence.

     CLICK LOGO TO VIEWmagnificent-frigatebird

Film clip: MF has TB by the leg & shakes it until the fish  (circled) drops outMagnificent Frigatebird steals fish from Tropicbird (BBC clip)

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A MAN-O-WAR GALLERY

A male in flight (a most unusual shot, taken from above)Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

Juveniles being delinquentMagnificent Frigatebirds (juv) - Michael Vaughn

A female in flight: the white front is the invariable distinguishing featureMagnificent Frigatebird (f) - Michael Vaughn

Maybe a bit of rivalry going on here….?Magnificent Frigatebird (f) - Michael Vaughn

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10 MAGNIFICENT FACTS ABOUT FRIGATEBIRDS

  • The largest of several frigatebird species around the world
  • Found in tropical and subtropical waters
  • Females have white fronts – easily distinguishable from males in flight
  • Adult wingspan is 7+ feet = largest wing-area / bodyweight ratio of any bird
  • Can remain in flight and far out to sea for many days
  • KLEPTOPARASITES – will rob other seabirds of their food
  • Diet: mainly fish & squid from the water’s surface; seabird chicks
  • Nest in colonies, producing a single egg every other season
  • Don’t land on water, as they can’t float; and feeble at walking on land
  • One of the earliest depictions of a frigatebird is by Eleazar Albin in 1737. He was a naturalist contemporary of MARK CATESBY & pre-dated AUDUBON

Albin’s Magnificent FrigatebirdFrigatebird_Eleazar_Albin_1737

Audubon’s Magnificent FrigatebirdAudubon Frigatebird

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

Credits: Michael Vaughn for all photos; cartoon from Birdorable; Mr Albin and Mr Audubon for ornithological awesomeness; TV CLIP bbc.co.uk  © copyright 2009 BBC

Magnificent Frigatebird (m) - Michael Vaughn

ABSORBING SPONGES ON THE BAHAMAS REEFS…


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ABSORBING SPONGES ON THE BAHAMAS REEFS…

A while back I showed a collection of colourful sponges – one that you might come across with minimum equipment. Snorkel, mask, flippers. Oh, and a coral reef, if you happen to have one handy. I suspect that to quite a few people the word ‘sponge’ means soggy yellow thing, as found in the proximity of a bath. Or a scratchy nylon-based equivalent. Well, here are a few more sponges to enjoy. Some I can give you the names of, some I don’t know and am too idle busy to look up… Sorry.

sponges-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

Candelabra Songe (with brittle stars attached)candelabra-sponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scubasponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

Black Ball Spongesblack-ball-sponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba-copy

One for Valentine’s Dayheart-shaped-sponge-melinda-riger-gb-scuba

Vase Spongesvase-sponge- pink-melinda-riger-gb-scubavase-sponge-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

sponges-and-coral-on-the-reef

Spawning Brown Encrusting Spongebrown-encrusting-sponge-spawning-melinda-riger-g-b-scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

АБАKО: SOVIET RUSSIAN MILITARY MAP OF ABACO


Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979

АБАKО: SOVIET RUSSIAN MILITARY MAP OF ABACO

I had been toying with a plan to write something fishy today. Lifting the lid on the secrets of the creole wrasse, maybe. Then something arrived in my inbox overnight that changed my course entirely. I was struck  by an idea  harder than a torrent of mixed metaphors speeding towards a bullseye in the motherlode. A map! A map of Abaco!! All in Russian!!! From the Soviet Russian Military Survey!!!! Irresistible. An occasion for multiple exclamation marks.509px-hammer_and_sickle_black_large_on_transparent-svg

‘Russian Soviet Military Topographic Maps’

Map sheet G-18-1 GREAT ABACO ISLAND ed. 1979 – scale 1:500 000, map size 66 cm x 55 cm

Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979

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My blog is stuffed full of maps. They are scattered everywhere, like cartographical confetti. There’s even a page for some of them HERE. Want a map of Abaco’s HIGHEST POINT (134m, if you have the energy).  Need to see what Abaco looked like 300 years ago? Try HERE. Need a history of Hole-in-the-Wall in maps? Try THIS. And so on.
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The header map is a merely the bottom-left corner of the much larger map immediately above. As a crop of the much larger area, it’s illegible. Which is next to useless, because the best thing about this map is that it is all in Russian. And I really wanted to see how they had mapped Marsh Harbour. Treasure Cay. Man-o-War. And the rest. I looked around online and reached this one. Even with some work on the image, you can only get a blurry glimpse – just a few tempting hints of Cyrillic. But it’s impossible to locate Марш Харьор, Трежер Ки, or Ман-оф-Уор Ки…

Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979

509px-hammer_and_sickle_black_large_on_transparent-svg

So, back to the interweb thing. And eventually, something usable turned up. Here, with props to Clicpic, is Abaco in the late Soviet era. Check out where you live – in Russian. Got friends on Грейт Гуапна Кй? Sadly, the northern end of Abaco and the whole southern end from Crossing Rocks down to Hole-in-the-Wall and right round to Sandy Point is absent. That area is of course the perfect place for missile silos**. Except now it’s a National Park, so that wouldn’t be possible… would it?

509px-hammer_and_sickle_black_large_on_transparent-svg

I’ve split the map into 3 sections to make it as big as possible. The maps overlap to keep the proportions equal on-screen. Double click to zoom in. Hope you enjoy travelling around it…

Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979 Detail 1 Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979 Detail 2 Soviet Russian Military Map of Abaco 1979 Detail 3

** Vladdy, mate, if you or your agents have picked up on this, (1) only joking, right? and (2) you’ve  anyway got better things to worry about these days…