Hurricane Matthew, NASA aerial view


As Hurricane Matthew sweeps northwards, with Abaco in its path for the hit tomorrow, it’s an opportunity to take a look at the power and might of extreme weather, and maybe to recalibrate the word ‘awesome’ from its current diluted usage. The images used all relate to the state of play in the last 24 hours.

Hurricane Matthew_satellite view (NASA)

Satellite view at 14.00 EDThurricane-matthew-satellite-clip-wunderground

The concept of ‘awe’, historically and Biblically, comprised emotions such as wonderment, astonishment, terror and dread. Biblical translations use ‘awe’ and ‘awesome’ almost exclusively to refer to God or to His Works. In many Biblical instances of people being awed, they not only experience extremes of emotion but also exhibit palpable signs of fear – shaking, cowering, falling down, prostrating themselves.

Aerial view of Hurricane Matthew from the International Space Station, October 4hurricane-matthew- aerial view (ISS/ NASA)

The perfect example of the ‘proper’ meaning of awesome can be found in Genesis: ‘He (Jacob) was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”‘ Some translations use the word ‘dreadful’ in place of ‘awesome’ for this passage – in its old meaning of ‘full of dread’, not its watered down modern meaning as in ‘dreadful headache’ or ‘dreadful nuisance’ (the same dilution that has happened to ‘terrible’).

Hurricane Matthew Tracking Path (Wunderground)


In 1980 a man called Dr Robert Plutchik designed a ‘diagram of emotions’ in a floral wheel format. This device visualised eight basic emotions, with eight derivative emotions each composed of two basic ones. Awe is at 4.00 o’clock, showing the extreme of the Biblical meaning as a mixture of terror and amazement (think of the reaction of the shepherds while watching of their flocks, when unexpectedly interrupted by an angel…). There’s no place in the wheel for ‘awesome’ to mean ‘I really like that photo you took’. Or, ‘your soup is delicious’. Or, ‘I am so pleased to have made a plan to meet you at Pete’s Pub’.

Language is a living thing, and the hyperbolic application of powerful words to mundane emotions or objects is widespread and unsurprising. But a Cat. 4 hurricane really is awesome stricto sensu: it is both an amazing ‘extreme weather event’, and a terrifying one, as the header image and the many images of Matthew’s progress posted online amply  illustrate. The recent practice of  giving hurricanes comfortable names does nothing to dispel their power or the awe they inspire.  On present tracking, Matthew will reach Abaco some time tomorrow. From a safe distance, I wish everyone on Abaco and elsewhere in the target zone all the very best and a safe passage through the storm.



Credit: 'Watts Up With That" - Click image for Hurricane Irene page of this excellent weather & climate site


Astounding, breathtaking, amazing, stunning, astonishing, awe-inspiring, stupendous, staggering, extraordinary, incredible, unbelievable, magnificent, wonderful, spectacular, remarkable, phenomenal, prodigious, miraculous, sublime, formidable, imposing, impressive, mind-boggling, mind-blowing, out of this world, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, amazeballs, badass


Credits: Nasa / Goes, NASA / ISS, Wunderground, Craig Setzer




I have no idea if there is a collective noun for a large group of silversides. ‘Frenzy’ would cover it, but that is reminiscent of ‘feeding freezing’ which has a specialist meaning – and anyway, silversides are crazy even when they aren’t feeding. 24/7/12/365 as far as I can make out. I think ‘a panic of silversides’ might be the answer. They are just… all over the place at high speed. Sometimes swirling around pointlessly, other times moving in unison and suddenly all changing direction simultaneously, like a single creature made of tiny shards of silver.


There are quite a few silverside species around the world. The ones in the Bahamas are Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), also known in the north east of the United States as ‘spearing’. They seem to exist for two purposes. The main one is to be breakfast, lunch or dinner for larger fish, sea birds and shore birds. The other is for their usefulness in scientific research because of their sensitivity to environmental changes. 


In one sense they are easy prey for predators. A determined fish will always manage a snack by swimming into the middle of a panic and (probably) simply by opening its mouth wide. On the other hand, their sheer numbers coupled with the speed and randomness of movement mean that a single may find a degree of safety in numbers. It’s hard for a predator to target any individual fish in the general melee and confusion. Silversides also favour seagrass beds, which give some shelter and protection – and a reasonably safe place to spawn. Or, as some of these photos show, they will hang around wrecks or squeeze into rocky spaces in the reef.


A panic of silversides apparently pouring like a waterfall down through a gap in the reefsilversides-waterfall-abaco-kay-politano



Some time ago we used to go to the reef at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve with Kay Politano, and I would snorkel with a small and very basic lo-res underwater camera. I was hampered by being a disgracefully feeble swimmer; by not having snorkelled for a length of time calculable in decades; and by being a complete novice at underwater photography.  Despite these not inconsiderable disadvantages I managed to cobble together a few short movies on my computer (I was new to that too). Here’s one that nearly works, in that it gives an idea of what happens if you ‘swim with silversides’. I know you scuba guys all swim with sharks, but cut me some slack here please…

Photo Credits: Main photos Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; Silverside Waterfall by Kay Politano; motionless silversides by FISHBASE.ORGMusic: Goldon Giltrap, ‘Fast Approaching’


Hooded Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)


The Hooded Warbler (Setophaga citrina) breeds in eastern North America in summer, and winters in Central America and the West Indies. On Abaco they are classed as WR3, ‘uncommon winter residents’. The range map below reveals one strange aspect of their habitat. It looks as though they choose not to live in Florida either in summer or winter. I’m sure they must be found there as transients; and there must presumably be some small breeding or wintering populations in Florida. Or both. But it’s hard to understand why Florida does not seem to suit them.



On Abaco, I have only ever had reports of Hooded Warblers from Man-o-War Cay, which seems to be a warbler hotspot every season. There are 37 WARBLER SPECIES recorded for Abaco. FIVE WARBLER SPECIES are year-round residents. Of the migratory 32, at least two dozen seem to favour Man-o-War for their winter break in the sun. MoW resident Charmaine Albury, who took the main photos in this post, has already counted 14 different warbler species before the end of September. She has found up to 5 species in a tree at the same time. 

Hooded Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)


There are periodic upheavals in Birdland which, following research, lead to an official reclassification of a particular bird species or genus. In 2011, many warblers that were cheerfully going about their business under the classification Dendroica found themselves merged into the older ‘priority’ genus Setophaga (Greek for ‘moth eating’). The Hooded Warbler, formerly Wilsonia, has found itself similarly merged into Setophaga – a kick in the teeth for the naturalist ALEXANDER WILSON, for whom the bird was named (along with many others – his plover being a well-known example on Abaco).



The word relates to lemons – citrus fruits – and their colour, and is undoubtedly apt for the hooded warbler. However the semi-precious calcite gem, ‘Citrine’ (same word origin) is not lemon coloured but (disappointingly) brownish.


Hooded Warbler, Man-o-War Cay, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

This little warbler has a plain olive / greeny-brown back, and a bright yellow face and underparts. There are white feathers on the outsides of their under-tail (I’m sure there’s a more technical word for this…) – see header image. Only males have the black hoods and bibs; females have an olive-green cap. 


Hoodies forage for insects in low vegetation and dense undergrowth, or catch them by HAWKING from a branch or twig. Sadly, they are one of the species that are targeted by brown-headed cowbirds, the cruel exponents of brood parasitismThese birds are rarely found transients on Abaco at present, but they are a robust species and there is evidence that their range is increasing. In some areas there are controlled (euphemism for… er… dispensed with). I’d favour that approach for Abaco, should they show signs of inflicting their evil ways on the resident breeding population of small birds.

Audubon plate-110-hooded-warbler-final

Hooded Warbler in Audubon’s Birds of America


I am often at sea with the attempts to turn birdsong into to memorable words of phrases. Yes, a Bobwhite sounds a bit like a quizzical ‘Bob… White?‘. But I rarely ‘get’ the “I’d-like-a-Kalik-with-my-Conch” and suchlike. For what it is worth, I learn that for the Hooded Warbler “the song is a series of musical notes which sound like: wheeta wheeta whee-tee-oh, for which a common mnemonic is “The red, the red T-shirt” or “Come to the woods or you won’t see me“. See what I mean? Anyway, we can all agree that “the call of these birds is a loud chip.” As with so many species!  

So here’s what to listen out for (recording: FLMNH). Suggestions for a suitable phrase welcome!

1291c       3646

If you come across a bird that looks like a hooded warbler, but is motionless and makes no sound unless you squeeze it, you may have found the subspecies Audubonus stuffii, which is found mainly in the Amazon and E. Bay regions.51idfxzal


I haven’t had time to musically divert for a while. My title refers, of course, to the ‘psychedelic pop’ song by Donovan, released in the US in 1966 and the UK in early 1967. The theory is that the song relates to the supposed (but mythical) hallucinogenic high to be had from smoking dried banana skins. There are an explicit interpretation for the ‘electical banana’ which we need not go into in a family blog.  There was a rumour, now discredited, that Paul McCartney supplied the “quite rightly” in the chorus. Anyway, to chime in with the mood of the time, one of the first ‘coffee shops’ in Amsterdam was called Mellow Yellow. 






Credits: Charmaine Albury for the photos and her warbling work on Man-o-War Cay; Luis Alvarez-Lugo (Wikipici); random open source material; FLMNH (birdsong); my iTunes


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


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




From time to time I come across historic maps of the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular. Many were included in a post I wrote some time ago about the maritime and geographic importance of Hole-in-the-Wall, HERE. Almost all pre-c20 maps of the Bahamas contain insights into the maritime and geo-political history of the islands that are worth investigating. One that recently caught my eye is a map dated 1778 from Italy, published in Venice, with the excellent title “Il Paese de’ Selvaggi Outauacesi, e Kilistinesi Intorno al Lago Superiore”, attributed to Antonio Zatta, John Mitchell and G T Raynal.  “The title translated, might read, “The Country of the Savage Ottowas and Christineaux on the shores of Lake Superior.” Except for Ile Royale, the large islands in the lake are fictitious. The somewhat distorted outline of southern Florida in the inset is in keeping with general lack of British knowledge about this area” Portinaro & Knirsch 

Zatta was a Venetian cartographer who produced some important maps in the 1770s and 1780s, including a 4-volume atlas of the world. Mitchell was a geographer and botanist, best known for the first comprehensive map of eastern North America (1755); Guillaume Thomas Raynal was a French writer and journalist most famous for his treatise on the ‘philosophical and political history of the establishment of commerce by Europeans in the the two Indies’, a work that was considered controversial (it was banned in France, and copies burned). 


Lake Superior, with the ‘Supplemento alla Florida Orientale’ inset – a strange juxtaposition…abaco-map-zatta-1778-sm


The ‘eastern Florida’ inset conveniently happens to include the northern Bahamas. Staying with Fl. for a moment, of note is the inclusion of C. Canaveral, spelled then as now. Key Biscayne is also shown. I wondered about the place marked Tartarughe Secche – ‘Dry Turtles’. It is now Dry Tortugas National Park. “Mostly water, this remote park features abundant marine & bird life plus a 19th-century fort. It comprises 7 islands, plus protected coral reefs. Garden Key is home to beaches and the 19th-century Fort Jefferson. Loggerhead Key has a lighthouse and sea turtles. On nearby Loggerhead Reef, the Windjammer Wreck, the remains of an 1875 ship, is a popular dive site. Bush Key is a nesting site for seabirds like sooty terns.”** I suspect that these coral reef islets were marked on maps in days before lighthouses because of the hazards they posed to navigation at sea; and because, like Hole-in-the-Wall on Abaco, they were useful navigation aids.



Unacknowledged in both the map and the inset titles, are the northern Bahamas islands. We can pass by Bimini, Andros and (Grand) Bahama which, apart from distinct oddities of scale, shape, and location are more or less as one might expect for the period. Let’s look at some details of the depiction of Abaco. 


  • ABACO(A) The first geographical jolt comes not from the well-known fact that historically, present-day Abaco was originally called Lucaya (or variations), but that (New) Providence was called Abacoa. Adding to the confusion, some early maps also show certain cays as ‘Abaco’, ‘Abacoa’, or in the case of Tilloo Cay in 1815, ‘Aboca’, possibly through errors or misunderstandings. This map is one of the few I have seen that shows both the mapped transition of Lucaya (or its variants) to Abaco; and of Abaco(a) to Providence. If anyone has any idea why this came about, I’d be pleased to know!
  • HITW? The next surprise is that Hole-in-the-Wall, an established and mapped nautical landmark for some decades, is not marked. Shown on maps since at least 1738, this is the first map I have found – other than the most basic – that does not feature HITW (in whatever language) or ‘Lighthouse Point’. An odd omission.
  • PORTO PICCOLO’s inclusion is interesting because it continues a tendency – eg 1738, Couvens & Mortier – to show Little Harbour as the only named settlement, though by 1778 there must have been others. LH was clearly a place of some significance, and this presumably had a nautical explantation: the harbour is perfectly placed to offer protection and a safe refuge in stormy weather.
  • CANAL DELA BALENA refers to what, by the early c20, was called ‘Whale Cay Channels’ (below), by which time it was more accurately mapped. Other c18 maps also show ‘Chenal Whale’ and ‘Whale Channel’, but considerably north of the actual location. But in those days, even the outline of Abaco and the location of the cays was usually endearingly wonky.whale-cay-abaco-map-crop
  • BARRA DI DUCHTWRECK I haven’t been able to find out much about this location, or the wreck that gave it its name. A map by Thompson (1815) calls it ‘Dutch Wreck Bar’, and I can only assume that at some time in the early c18 – or even the c17 – a Dutch vessel came to grief on the reef. I need to look into this more. Someday. Oddly, the modern Italian for a reef is barriera not barra. Maybe the word has changed over time, or the usage barra then was colloquial; or perhaps in mapping terms it was a generally accepted abbreviation.
  • I MIMBRES This reef or shoal area of is usually mapped as Matanilla Reef, Maternillo Bank or Reef, or variants. In 1656 this area – presumably dangerous for shipping – was the scene of a dramatic tragedy involving a treasure ship, the flagship of a fleet. I dug up reports of the events in Portugese which baffled ‘Google Translator. I was bailed out by an article about treasure hunter Robert Marx and his findings:


If you have got this far at all, or even with the assistance of 2 or 3 Kaliks, thanks for bearing with me. The old Abaco maps are fascinating, and of course once one begins to dig, so more stuff emerges… and so on.

Credits: David Rumsey Historical Map Collection, / Cartography Associates – in particular for licensing non-commercial use of material via a Creative Commons License; magpie pickings from multiple open-source sites.

**Dry Tortugas National Park review comments are eclectic and include “Crystal clear water, lots of wildlife, nice people and such a cool fort”; “The Dry Tortugas area first gained significance after the War of 1812” and “Constant nice breeze and comfortable night time temperatures for sleeping.”




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.


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.**


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

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


Piping Plover in flight (Fl., Danny Sauvageau)


Today’s the day that plovers appreciate the humans who enjoy them and look after them. Or maybe they have become more valuable than ever (I hope I have understood this right). I’m stuck at an airport right now waiting on a delayed flight, after our original flight had already postponed by 48 hours, and I’d sure appreciate being able to fly out of here under my own steam. So to speak. Free as a bird. Like these guys.

Semi-palmated Plovers in flight, Abaco (Alex Hughes)_Piping_Plover_on_the_Fly (USFWS Mountain-Prairie wiki)Semi-palmated Plovers in flight, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

Credits: Danny Sauvageau (1); Alex Hughes (2, 4); USFWS (3); BA for 2 extra days away…