SCOOP! BLACK SKIMMERS FOUND ON ABACO


Black Skimmers in flight (Terry Foote, wiki)

SCOOP! BLACK SKIMMERS FOUND ON ABACO


I have been waiting soooooo long for photos of black skimmers (Rynchops niger) taken on Abaco. When we were putting together “The Birds of Abaco”, I had just one skimmer image – a bird standing self-consciously on a jetty facing the camera, a shot into difficult light with a low-res unusable picture resulting. I never collected another qualifer (‘Abaco birds only, natural surroundings, no feed trails’). So sadly they don’t feature in the book.

Black Skimmer, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

These rather special seabirds breed in North America. Very sensibly (and like many humans), they migrate south to overwinter in warmer climes, including the Caribbean. But in the northern Bahamas sightings are very rare. Or maybe I should say, reports of them are rare, and photos the more so. They are classified as WR4, very uncommon winter residents.

Black Skimmers, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

But now the Rolling Harbour duck is broken (so to speak). Two skimmers were spotted yesterday by Man-o-War Cay resident Charmaine Albury, a keen birder and photographer. Her images of this chance sighting as the pair flew gracefully past to land on the beach show enviably quick reactions with the camera! We have a Big Scoop here. Two of them.

Black Skimmer, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

 WHAT’S SO SPECIAL ABOUT THEM?

  1. EYES These birds have dark brown eyes. So far, so what. But their pupils are unique in birdland: they aren’t round, but vertical – like a cat. As far as I can make out, this is to maximise the fish-catching potential of their other speciality feature…
  2. BILL Take a look at this close-up of a great photo by Don Faulkner. Check out that unmistakeable bill, with the extraordinary elongated lower mandible. 

black-skimmer-close-up-don-faulkner-wiki

HOW DOES THAT HELP?

When hunting for food, skimmers fly fast and very close to the surface of the sea. The long thin lower mandible cuts through the water … and when it comes into contact with its prey, the bird snaps shut the upper mandible onto it. 

OK, SHOW ME!

Black Skimmer skimming water for prey (Dan Pancamo wiki)

NOT ENOUGH. I WANT TO ACTUALLY WATCH THEM DO IT…

This short video by EstuaryLiveTV shows skimmers feeding in real time, then in slow motion in an estuary. They are looking for fish, crusteaceans and molluscs. It explains all.

Black Skimmer, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

Credits: Terry Foote (1); Charmaine Albury (2, 3, 4, 7); Don Faulkner (5); Dan Pancamo (6); EstuaryLiveTV (video).

A-PIPIN’ & A-PLOVIN’ ON ABACO: PIPL POWER


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A-PIPIN’ & A-PLOVIN’ ON ABACO: PIPL POWER

Last year someone kindly reported a lone piping plover sighting on ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH. I like to get a few details, so I asked what it was doing (meaning: sleeping / mooching / foraging / flying?). She replied – and I knew exactly what she meant – “Oh, a-pipin’ and a-plovin’ about on the beach”. A very evocative description of how these tiny scuttling birds pass their days!

Green Flag YLO, renamed Coco for short
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The A P P Watch is now into its 4th month. The earliest reported arrival for the fall winter / winter season was as early as July 30. The first banded bird was reported on August 4, in a small group of 5. The leg bands (upper right Green Flag coded YLO; upper left Orange Band) at once confirmed the bird as an unnamed returner originating from Fire Island National Seashore NY – to the very same beach where it was sighted last December. That is known as ‘beach fidelity’, and is a most important piece of conservation data, because it is evidence that the beaches of Abaco provide a safe and unspoilt winter habitat for this vulnerable and threatened species. YLO was renamed Coco to reward his contribution to empirical conservation study.

piping-plover

We didn’t have to wait long for the next banded bird, one that had undertaken the longest journey we have yet come across, nearly 2000 miles (direct) from Big Barachois, Newfoundland. Black Flag 58 was soon traced to his origin and details of his adventurous life were uncovered – two summers on the same breeding beach, and a spring sighting on Long Island, NY. 

Piping Plover from Newfoundland: 4-aug-6-winding-bay abaco -keith kemp-jpgnewfoundland-to-abaco-map

The next find was a precious ‘Bahama Pink’ on Long Beach, known simply as… Pink Flag #50. She was banded on the same beach in 2014; resighted there in December 2015; and had returned for her third visit before the end of August 2016. The perfect example of ‘beach fidelity’.

Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas: pink flag 50 (Keith Kemp)

In the same group that day was another exciting find, this time a new bird Green Flag 2AN originating from the same place as Coco above: Fire Island National Seashore, NY. Piping Plover, Abaco, Bahamas, Green Flag 2AN-aug (Keith Kemp)13880178_343177786027819_6547752228912195883_n

There was a bit of a lull with banded bird sightings until October, when ‘Taco’ from the Holgate Unit, Edwin B. Forsythe NWR, NJ showed up. We had two other birds from the same location last season. 

Piping Plover "Taco", Abaco, Bahamas 2016

Soon after, a returner from last season arrived back on his same beach to join Taco. Jonesy was originally ‘Mrs Jones’, as in the song, until he was identified as a male and had to be renamed. He originated from the Ninigret NWR, R.I. He and Taco are still keeping company – they were seen together only yesterday.

Piping Plover Jonesy, Abaco, Bahamas 2016 (Keith Kemp)sandy-point-ri-to-winding-bay

Finally, a warm Abaco welcome please to the aptly named Bahama Mama, a rare Great Lakes bird from Muskegon State Park, MI, resighted in early November.  She was found on the same beach in December last year. Bahama Mama - Great Lakes Piping Plover on Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Kemp)15027859_392958301049767_8409742050501259206_n

So far this season, all the banded birds have been positively identified except one – a tantalising possible sighting of last year’s ‘Bird of the Season’ Tuna on ‘his’ beach.  From a distance shot the bands on one leg looked right… but all-in-all the image is simply not clear enough (and heavily pixellated with onscreen adjustments) to be certain. 

If it is indeed Tuna, then five of the banded birds so far are returners, in each case to the same beach as last year. The chart below is a draft (there’ll no doubt be some tidying up as the season progresses)

Piping Plovers on Abaco-id-chart-2-p-1-jpg

Credits: Peter Mantle (header image); Keith Kemp; Rhonda Pearce – and with thanks to all monitors

CASPIAN TERNS: A RARE TREAT FOR ABACO


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CASPIAN TERNS: A RARE TREAT FOR ABACO

The magnificent Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia is the world’s largest tern species, with an adult wingspan of about 5 feet. These birds are widely distributed throughout the world, though on Abaco and in the Bahamas generally they are classed as a very uncommon transient species, classified as T4 signifying a mere handful of reports. Ever. 

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However Keith Kemp, redoubtable beach monitor for piping plovers, recently saw 2 on Winding Bay beach, Abaco. Moreover he managed to photograph them in flight (see header and above image).

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Keith’s are not the first Caspians to be photographed on Abaco. Bird wizard Woody Bracey managed to take one (below), which duly found its way into the ‘The Birds of Abaco‘.  Sadly it could only be included in the single-bird supplement: we needed at least two images of a species for it to qualify for a spread in the main part.

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Caspians have black legs, which usefully distinguish them from the tern species with orange or yellow legs. Note the heavy red / orange bill, which has a dark tip that is more noticeable in the breeding season. These large birds feed mainly on fish, and use their spectacular bills to good effect, hovering and then plunge-diving onto their prey.

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Caspian terns are found on 5 continents. The transient birds that pause in the Bahamas are on their migration to the West Indies and Gulf. Or on their way back, of course.

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WHY ‘CASPIAN’?

In the late c18, a specimen bird was found on, in or beside the Caspian Sea and was promptly named after it. The distribution map above suggests they still breed in the area. How fortunate it wasn’t found by the Dead Sea…

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WORRYING WIKI FACT OF THE DAY

In 2016, a nest of the Caspian tern was found in the Cape Krusenstern National Monument in northwestern Alaska, 1,000 miles further north than any previous sighting. This development was part of a general trend in Alaska of species moving to the north, a tendency ascribed to global warming.

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Credits: Keith Kemp (1, 2); Dmitry Mikhirev (3); Woody Bracey (4, 7); Dick Daniels (5); J J Harrison (6); planetofbirds (range map)

STARK’S “HISTORY OF & GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS”


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STARK’S “HISTORY OF & GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS”

James H. Stark appears to have been, for his time, a veritable Rough Guide for the Caribbean. In 1891 he produced an entrancing tome, the commendably grammatically correctly-titled “Stark’s History of and Guide to the Bahama Islands Containing a Description of Everything on or About the Bahama Islands of Which the Visitor or Resident May Desire Information, Including Their History, Inhabitants, Climate, Agriculture, Geology, Government and Resources”. More of his other magna opera below.

Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas     Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas

 The jaunty and classic late c19 cover depicts the landing of Columbus, lest the unwary reader should be so ill-informed as the be unaware of the location of the great explorer’s landfall. And gives the date of the event, for the sake of completeness. The title page is most informative of the contents, and manages to namecheck the author three times (or thrice, as he might have put it). The illustrations and in particular the maps are wonderful, and call for a small gallery for your enjoyment. The “Coast Chart” is compiled from “the latest… surveys.” The map of Nassau is most interesting to compare with a map of 125 years later. And the engraved map is set at an unusual angle to say the least. [I’ve tried to clip the Abaco part to check the place names, but I can’t yet get a clear enough image to read].

Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas - Bahamas Map

Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas - Nassau map

Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas - Bahama Islands Map

An historic map from 100 years earlier: note the place names, eg ‘Alabaster’ (Eleuthera)129

The ‘History of & Guide to’ has detailed sections on all the islands. I have lifted the relevant pages – only a few – concerning Abaco. See what a difference 125 years makes…

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I enjoyed reading the ‘opinions of the press’. How unlike our own dear Amazon reviews…Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas    Stark's History of & Guide to the Bahamas

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RAISING A CONTROVERSY…

This is a topic I have touched on before. It concerns the authentic location of the ‘Glass Window’ of Winslow Homer’s famous painting. Is it Eleuthera (as claimed) or Abaco (as contended). The argument is lodged with the Brooklyn Museum, custodian of the Homer painting. In Stark’s book of 1891 is a fine photograph of a – or the? – ‘glass window’, assigned to Eleuthera. Below is an earlier engraving entitled ‘On Abaco Island’. It is the work of Homer, named by him, and seemingly a preliminary study for the painting. The same view? Or different? The jury is still listening to the arguments… 

136aHole-in-the-Wall Picture

Winslow Homer G W Original Brooklyn

Other books by James H. Stark that you may enjoy:

Stark’s History and Guide to Barbados and the Caribee Islands, Containing a Description of Everything on or About These Islands of Which the Visitor or Resident May Desire Information – Including Their History, Inhabitants, Climate, Agriculture, Geology (1893)

A ditto for Trinidad.

A ditto for ‘Boston and its Suburbs’

A ditto to the County of Ohio

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HOLE-IN-THE-WALL for more about Hole-in-the-Wall, Abaco and Winslow Homer

Credits: my primary source is the University of Florida Digital Collection, to which thanks. However there are plenty of mainstream online sites that offer this book to view; and you can download it or even get your own POD (‘print on demand’). 

ABACO HISTORY: GREEN TURTLE CAY & THOSE WHO STAYED


Black Sound, GTC, Abaco (Amanda Diedrick)

‘THOSE WHO STAYED’

I am very pleased to feature Amanda Diedrick’s wonderful new book about the the history of Abaco generally and Green Turtle Cay specifically. Publication is imminent. Without more ado I will leave you with Amanda’s own description of her book, which is illustrated with paintings by illustrious Abaco & GTC artist Alton Lowe. It also contains unique historic photographs that record Abaco’s rich heritage. The book details are shown below, and there’s even a handy Paypal link if – as I hope – you cannot be restrained from the temptation to buy a copy. Or maybe two. And you can follow Amanda’s fascinating and rewarding blog at LITTLE HOUSE BY THE FERRY

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“Visitors often describe New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay as a charming fishing village, its narrow streets, clapboard homes and colourful flowers reminiscent of a New England town.

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But beneath this sweet façade is a past of piracy, poverty and privilege.

Hints of New Plymouth’s history are all around. A rusted anchor at Settlement Point. Two cannon standing guard on the public dock. Broken tombstones on the beach.  An old jail with stairs that lead nowhere.

For more than a thousand years, settlers have come here, drawn by the safety of the land and the bounty of the sea. And as the waves contour the shore, so have these migrants shaped this tiny cay.

By fate and occasionally by force, most were carried away.  A resilient few remained.

This is their story.”

ABOUT THOSE WHO STAYED

  • Print length: 185 pages
  • Book size: 8.5” x 11”
  • Full colour
  • Hard cover
  • Publication date: November 20, 2016
  • Images: 200+, including many never-before published historic photographs, and original oil paintings by world-renowned artist and Green Turtle Cay native, Alton Lowe
  • Price: $79.00

Buy Now Button

Books will ship at the end of November. All orders received by November 25 will be delivered before Christmas.

ABOUT THE AUTHORamanda-profile-pic-for-web

A writer for more than 25 years, Amanda Diedrick is a ninth-generation Bahamian who counts Loyalist settlers Wyannie Malone and Nathan Key and pirate Matthew Lowe among her ancestors.

In 2012, she and her husband Tom Walters purchased the tiny cottage on Green Turtle Cay that her great-grandparents, Herman and May Curry, built after the 1932 hurricane destroyed their grand home.

Amanda documents the ongoing restoration of her ancestral home and writes about Green Turtle Cay and its history on her blog, Little House by the Ferry [link above. RH]

Tom, Amanda and their dog, Wrigley, divide their time between Green Turtle Cay and Los Angeles.

ABOUT THE ARTIST

As with so many Bahamians, it wasn’t until Alton Lowe left home at 16 to become an artist that he truly realized the uniqueness and beauty of his home country.

alton-lowe

In the decades since, he has devoted himself to capturing the people, scenes and history of the Bahamas in original oil paintings.

Lowe’s colourful works hang in public and private collections worldwide, including those of HRH Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, as well as Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. He has staged 38 one-man shows to date, and more than 100 of his works have been commissioned by the Bahamian government for use as postage stamps.

Reflecting his commitment to preserving Bahamian history, Lowe founded Green Turtle Cay’s Albert Lowe Museum and was instrumental in the creation of the island’s Loyalist Memorial Sculpture Garden and Island Roots Heritage Festival.

Through his body of work, he hopes to convey the magnificence of the Bahamas and to inspire his fellow Bahamians to appreciate, enhance and protect their remarkable history for future generations.

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Text and images Amanda Diedrick except welcome sign (GTC Rentals) and the photo below (socmed / open source)

Abaco map by Thompson (1812): note the strange geography, place names and spellings

For more historic Abaco maps click HEREabaco-historic-map-thompson-1815-crop-copy

The opening of the Albert Lowe Museum, Green Turtle Cay, AbacoAlbert Lowe Museum GTC Opening Nov 1976

MANATEE AWARENESS MONTH (& BABY TALK)


Rita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

MANATEE AWARENESS MONTH (& BABY TALK)

Are you aware of the Bahamas manatees? Just a few years ago your answer might well have been “Bahamas what? No, why? Where?” But suddenly they arrived. And their numbers are increasing. Alternatively, of course, they have always been there, mooching around peacefully and unnoticed in the seagrass. 

Manatee Awareness Graphic (Peppermint Narwhal)

Rita and her recently born daughter – Kamalame, AndrosRita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation BMMRO has been keeping tabs on occasional sightings of manatees in Bahamian waters for some years. But until around 2012 – when I first learned of them and wrote about them – they appeared to be few and far between. They seemed to be unrecorded for Abaco, or anyway unphotographed.** Then the sightings began. Names were given to individuals, identified primarily by distinctive marks or cuts on their ‘paddles’ (tails). Gina. Rita. Georgie. Randy. JJ. Sightings in Hope Town, Little Harbour, Cherokee and the Casuarina canal. Manatees had arrived and were being paid attention. The ease of digital photography and the rapidly increasing use of social media resulted in more reports, wider interest and – yes – greater awareness both on Abaco and elsewhere in the wider Bahamas

**so much for being factually assertive! Many thanks to Mary for her account of one on Green Turtle Cay ‘seen by everyone’; and Kelley for her 2008 one in Galleon Bay canal… of which she actually got a photo…

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To give you an idea of the rapid spread of the West-Indian Manatee population, here is a great infographic made recently by Felice Leanne Knowles of the BMMRO, mapping 2016 sightings of both known and unidentified manatees in the Bahamas. An amazing 15 in all, in an area where the natural fresh water these creatures need for survival is in short supply.

Bahamas Manatee sightings infographic (BMMRO / Felice Knowles)

You’ll see that in July both Gina and Rita had nosed their way down to Andros. At this time, Gina was known to be heavily pregnant. She gave birth in Kamalame Cay, and the photos of her above with her new calf were taken there.

The baby manatee is known to be a female and there is currently a competition to name her. A spreadsheet-worth of names was submitted to the BMMRO, and they have been whittled down to 3 for a final poll-off between Andie (Andros), Kaman (Kam[alame] An[dros]) and Morgan (Arrrrrrrr in Piratese). 

Waiting for a name…Rita the Mantee & her new baby. Bahamas (BMMRO)

RELATED LINKS

BAHAMAS MANATEE CLUB (BMMRO)

BAHAMAS MANATEES: GINA’S GOOD NEWS

BAHAMAS MANATEES: A SHORT HISTORY 1904 – 2015

WEST INDIAN MANATEES (RH PAGE)

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Credits: BMMRO and individual photographers whom I will identify when my backup has finished churning away; Felice Leanne Knowles; ‘Kelly’ (header); @kamalamecay; Sarah Jayne Buchanan; Peppermint Narwhal for their (as usual) inspired illustrative graphics.

mantsw~1

ROYAL TERNS: DIVING FOR SILVER


Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)

ROYAL TERNS: DIVING FOR SILVER

Terns. They have voracious appetites for fish. One of the great birding sights is to watch a tern rise above the sea, and hover watchfully from a height before plunge-diving to smash into the sea and emerge in a cloud of spray with a silver prize. Here are some astounding photos by Danny Sauvageau of Royal Terns doing what they like to do best…

THE HOVER

Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)

THE PLUNGE

Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)

THE PRIZE

Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)Royal Tern diving for fish (Danny Sauvageau)

KNOW YOUR TERNS (WITH THE ADMIRABLE BIRDORABLE)Birdorable: Tern Species

Credits: DANNY SAUVAGEAU, with thanks as always for use permission; BIRDORABLE, with thanks for their wit and amazingly effective highlighting of the essential distinguishing features of bird species