WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY? YAY! AN ABACO COMPETITION!


Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 7

WORLD SHOREBIRDS DAY? YAY! AN ABACO COMPETITION!

In the past I have occasionally offered a Kalik™ (half in jest) for a ‘right answer’ or a nugget of info. Anyone who didn’t get their beer can still claim it, of course [no, no, not all at once please…]. But now I’m getting serious. World Shorebird day is on September 6th, and this weekend sees a global shorebird count in which, it is hoped, large numbers of people will scan their shorelines and post the results on the great and good resource that is eBird

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But you don’t need to go to those lengths. Here’s the deal. Is there a bit of beach near you (hint: on Abaco you’ll never be far from a beach or shoreline except in the National Park)? If the answer is yes, then can you spare an hour (or two?) to take a walk on the beach over the weekend?  Or Monday and Tuesday? If so, can you look for a particular rare bird that makes its home on Abaco for the winter? Great. You’re in the competition, then. And there’ll even be a PIPL-related prize…

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 1

THE (SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE) RULES

  • go for a beach walk, taking a notebook, pen, a camera or even just a phone. Binoculars would be good.
  • look for tiny shorebirds that look like the birds in this post
  • count how many you see at a time (watch out, they move quite fast). Maybe 1 or 2. A dozen is the likely max.
  • check their legs for coloured flags or bands and if possible note the colours and any numbers / letters
  • if possible, take photos of the bird(s), showing legs if banded. Don’t worry too much about quality – enhancement is possible
  • tell me about what you found and send me any photos (see below)

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

HOW WILL I KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR?

  • Size – very small (6″ – 7″) and usually busy
  • Legs – orange
  • Beak – black, possibly with a hint of orange at the base
  • Eyes – black and beady, with a streak of white above
  • Front – white / very pale
  • Underside – ditto
  • Back – greyish / brownish-tinged
  • Head – ditto
  • Tail – darker feathers at the end
  • Neck ring – a greyish hint of a partial one (they are black in summer)

Piping Plover (Danny Sauvageau) 8

WHERE WILL I FIND ONE?

  • On a beach or maybe a rocky shoreline
  • Out in the open on the sand, anywhere from back of the beach to the shoreline
  • Foraging in the tide margins
  • Rushing round in a seemingly random way
  • Taking a dip in a sea-pool (see above)
  • On a rock near the sea

Piping Plover (nb), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

WHAT DO YOU WANT TO KNOW?

In an ideal world, all the details below. But I’d be really pleased just to find that you had seen a piping plover on your chosen beach. Even the knowledge that a particular part of the shoreline is favoured by the birds is valuable for their conservation. The most useful info is:

  • Date, name of beach, approx location (‘north end’).  Time would be good too, and whether tide high, mid or low
  • Number of piping plovers seen (if any) and how many banded / flagged (if any).
  • Impression of bands if unclear: ‘I think it was… a green flag / an orange ring / a metal ring’ or if visible…
  • ‘One was green flag 2AN on it’ / ‘one had bands – left leg upper leg orange, right upper leg light blue…’
  • Take a photo. This will help eliminate other species of shorebird from the ID, and enable a close-up look

Piping Plovers, Delphi, Abaco A (Keith Salvesen)6

WHAT’S THE POINT OF BANDING & TRACKING THEM?

Marking a plover with coloured bands or flags (or a combo) gives a unique ID to each bird. Usually it will be done on the beach where they hatched, within a day or two. These adornments weigh nothing, do not impede the birds in foraging or in flight (or when mating…) and expand as they grow. The scientists who carry out the banding will have weighed and measured the hatchling and made a detailed record of the data collected. They need to get as much information as possible about the habits of each bird to help with conservation initiatives at both ends of the migrations.

piping-plover

Each fall the plovers travel south between 1000 and 2000 miles south from their summer breeding grounds. Tracking individual birds to where they overwinter enables scientists to build up a picture of the type and location of fragile habitat that these little birds prefer, and to compare the annual data for each banded bird. For example

  • A particular beach does not seem to attract piping plovers at all (there may be several good reasons for this)
  • A particular beach has single or small groups of piping plovers who come and go but don’t settle there
  • A particular beach usually has at least one or a few birds on it who show ‘beach fidelity’, eg Winding Bay
  • If birds are found in groups – more than 10, say – in a particular location, it means the beach suits the breed especially well. It is sheltered, has plenty of scope for good foraging, few predators, and has not been spoilt by humans. Long Beach (Island Homes) is a good example. Last December, groups of more than 60 were found there. It’s a *hotspot*!

Piping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

GIVE US AN EXAMPLE, PLEASE

Last season a bird called Tuna (see photo above) arrived at Watching Bay (Cherokee) in at the end of August. He moved from time to time to the Cherokee mud flats and Winding Bay, but mostly he remained at Watching Bay until April. His unique banding colours and their positioning led to the following information

  • The precise coordinates of location of the nest where he hatched in New Jersey
  • The date of hatching, banding, fledging and the last date he was seen there before migrating to Abaco
  • The name of the banders, plus his weight and the length of his body, wings, legs and beak
  • Even the names of Tuna’s parents. In fact, mother Paula headed to the Bahamas too –  she was resighted on Joulter Cays, Andros last winter.

Tuna was not reported over this summer – he didn’t return to his ‘birth beach’ – but we believe Tuna is now back at Watching Bay The distant photos were not clear enough to make a positive and definite ID. On the next visit we may know for sure, and all because of the bands. And we’ll know that he likes Abaco enough to fly back 1200+ miles to the same beach as last year. We can conclude that Watching Bay provides a suitable and safe habitat for Piping Plovers.

Piping Plover 1, West End Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?

  • Potential ‘fun for all the family (nb best leave the dog at home for this adventure…)
  • Exercise in a lovely beach setting
  • Seeing a rare and vulnerable bird in its natural setting
  • Wonderment that such a tiny bird should fly many miles & choose Abaco to overwinter
  • Assisting in logging the beach presence of the birds so that researchers know where to look
  • Helping count the birds so that year-on-year comparisons of the population can be monitored
  • Getting appreciation and thanks
  • Being described as a ‘Citizen Scientist’
  • Winning a prize if your are the most successful finder of banded birds, as verified by photos

Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’ll post details of sightings on ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH with credited photos. Later I’ll follow up with a ROLLING HARBOUR post summarising the results, listing the participants and their scores of both unbanded and banded birds, and naming the winner of the PIPL-themed prize to mark their glory…

Contact me via APPW, DM me on my FB page, or email me at rollingharbour.delphi [at] gmail.com

GOOD LUCK!

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Credits: Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury, Bruce Hallett, Keith Salvesen, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper, Gyorgy Szimuly (WSD logo)

ABACO’S WRECKS INVESTIGATED: SS HESLEYSIDE


SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O4

ABACO’S WRECKS INVESTIGATED: SS HESLEYSIDE 

Abaco, like many of the islands of the Bahamas, has its fair share of wrecks around its shores – both ancient and modern. I reference some of these under my RANDOM menu, with some maps, links, and general information. One that I didn’t include is the SS Hesleyside, a wreck that lies broken and wave-tossed on the rocks at Schooner Bay. To reach it, you will have to arrange at the entrance for a golf-cart to take you down to the shore. The price for your transport may be an invitation to take a tour of the community there, an ambitious enterprise that was started about 10 years ago.

charlton_steamship_co_charlton_mcallum_co_ltd_charlton_w_cflag

From where the Hesleyside lies, you get a long view across to Delphi, some 3 miles to the north. Delphi Club from Schooner Bay

For the energetic, you can walk the beach of Guinea Schooner Bay all the way to Delphi. However, the unpopulated strand is covered in seaweed (good for wildlife, though) and horrendous quantities of plastic, from micro off-cuts to macro bollards, oil containers and so forth. Frankly rather off-putting.

Guinea Schooner Bay, Abaco Beach Debris, Abaco

We visited Schooner Bay on a bright day with a strong wind that whipped up the waves all along the shoreline, with clouds of spray rather detracting from the photographic possibilities. The tide was high, and the remains of the wreck were at times barely visible. 

The bow, part of the central section towards the stern, and some sort of boiler (?) at the sternSS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O1 copy

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SS Hesleyside was a British cargo ship built in 1900 in Sunderland, England for the Charlton Steamship Co. (Charlton, McAllum). Steam-powered, the 2600 ton vessel was more than 300 foot long.  In 1908 she was was sailing from the Azores to Key West when bad weather struck, and on 1st October high winds – described in contemporary reports as a hurricane –  drove her aground where her remains now lie, a part of the coastline known as the ‘Iron Shore’. Fortunately the crew were able to escape, and there was no loss of life.

SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O7SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O3SS Hesleyside (wreck), Schooner Bay Abaco (Keith Salvesen) O5

A dramatic account of the shipwreck was published in the New York Times. The hero of the crisis was fireman Jack Thompson, who with notable courage volunteered to swim ashore with a line, by which the rest of the crew were able to make their way to safety.

Report from the New York TimesSS Hesleyside NYT report (Coconut Telegraph) jpg

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In accordance with standard practice, a Court of Inquiry was held in Nassau two weeks after the event to investigate the circumstances. The Master was exonerated of blame, having “tried every means of getting the ship under control without effect”.  SS Hesleyside 5 Report (Abaco Palms)

One interesting nautical and topographical note  is that the site of the wreck is described as “about 18 miles north of Hole in the Wall”. The navigational importance of HITW as a landmark was known from as early as the c17, and it was the first location to be named in the earliest maps of Abaco. For a detailed history of HITW in maps, click HERE

Nautical Map, 1856, showing the seas around ‘Le Trou dans le Mur’, and the lighthouseNautical Map 1857
Hesleyside details wrecksite.euSS Hesleyside details (wrecksite.eu / Tony Allen) [the date is wrong]

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WHO, WHAT OR WHERE IS HESLEYSIDE?

It’s a place in Northumberland, UK – inland, but not very from where the ship was built. Many of the Charlton ships began with an H and ended in …side. It was – and is – a common practice to have a naming theme for vessels. 

Hiram; SS 'Hesleyside'; Sunderland Museum & Winter Gardens; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ss-hesleyside-35255

THE WRONG SORT OF HESLEYSIDE

I got quite excited when I thought I had tracked down a painting in the Sunderland Museum of the SS Hesleyside. After all, there could hardly be two steam ships with the same name, could there? Wrong. There were in fact 3 ‘Charlton’ Hesleysides in all. There is some coincidence (but not necessarily ‘irony’, Alanis Morissette) that all 3 were wrecked.

Hesleyside (1) 

86089 

 

1882 

688 

Ex-Turgenief, 1882 purchased from Baxter & Co, Sunderland r/n Hesleyside, 24.7.1893 wrecked at Sosnowetz.

Hesleyside (2) 

110353 

 

1900 

2631 

4.10.1908 wrecked at Abaco, Bahamas.

Hesleyside (3) 

133508 

 

1912 

3994 

1933 sold to P. Hadoulis, Andros, 1935 sold to M. Sitinas, Andros, 24.5.1940 torpedoed and sunk in 48.30N 09.30W by U.37

The rather glamourised painting shown above shows Hesleyside Mark 3 her glory days. She was built in 1912 but was sold in 1933 to a Greek company and renamed SS Kymas. Under that name she was torpedoed by a U-boat in May 1940, and 7 of her crew of 30 were killed.  The photo below (which took me a long time to decide was the same Helseyside) shows a much more steamery, freightery looking vessel… 

hesleyside_40

Sources of information: plimsoll.org; NY Times; http://wrecksite.eu / Tony Allen; coconuttelegraph.net; http://www.abacopalms.com; Wiki; Sunderland Museum http://www.artuk.org/artworks/ss-hesleyside-35255; magpie pickings from all over the place.

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: W.I. WOODPECKER CHICKS (PT 2)


West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: W.I. WOODPECKER CHICKS (PT 2)

In just a few days, the West Indian WOODPECKER CHICKS have become bigger, noisier and much hungrier. Their heads are now tinged with red. They have started to compete for food: the first chick to push its way to the entrance hole gets the most food. Often there will be a smaller or weaker chick that gets rather left out in the frantic rush for grub (make that ‘grubs’ – see header image). But I suspect quite a lot of food shrapnel gets dropped and spread around inside the nest, so that in the end all the chicks are well sustained.

Rhonda Pearce has been taking photos of this growing family over the last few days, and if you saw my post last week, you will notice that the size of the chicks and the size of the food morsels jammed down their eager gullets has increased considerably…

A lizard hangs on tightly to the parent’s beak… but sadly it is doomed to be dinner…West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Mmmmmmm. It’s so tasty, little one…. and even if it isn’t, it’s going inWest Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Hey, kids, who wants a bug with wriggly legs and feelers?West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

What do we want? Food! When do we want it? Now!West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

“Wishin’ and hopin’…”West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

“Is there any left for me…?”West Indian Woodpecker & Chicks, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

RELATED POSTS

HUNGRY WIW CHICKS (PT 1)

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS

WIWs AT DELPHI

Credits: all photos, Rhonda Pearce

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER CHICKS


West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

HUNGRY MOUTHS TO FEED: WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER CHICKS

West Indian Woodpeckers are special. So special that Abaco even has its own subspecies  Melanerpes superciliaris blakei. They are joyful and noisy. They noisily share parenting duties in an admirably modern way. And did I mention they are noisy?

West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

The parents set up home together, with both partners taking their turns to choose the furnishings and fit out the nest. They share duties on the nest once the eggs have hatched. And they take turns to feed the nestlings as they grow into increasingly hungry and raucous fledglings. 

West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

This feeding sequence was taken by Rhonda Pearce whose ravenous chick in the header photo is one of the best I have come across. I have never managed to get such a clear shot of desperate chick hunger…  

Here’s how a nest can sound when the chicks are young – a weird sort of insistent purring sound. As the chicks get larger – and more competitive – so the volume level increases.

Get this down your throat, you pesky little rascal…West Indian Woodpeckers & Chicks (Rhonda Pearce)

RELATED POSTS

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKERS

WIWs AT DELPHI

Credits: all photos, Rhonda Pearce; audio recording RH @ Delphi Club nesting boxes

HOGFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (31)


Hogfish at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba

HOGFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (31)

Hogfish. Fisherman’s delight… getting ‘high on the hog’. This wrasse species Lachnolaimus maximus is a reef denizen, especially where gorgonians are found. It has the distinction of being the only known member of its genus, and because it is IUCN listed as vulnerable, there are strict regulations governing bag, size, and gear limits to protect the species from overfishing.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The hogfish gets its name from its long ‘pig-like’ snout, coupled with its rootling behaviour on the sea floor for crustacean prey.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy ed Hogfish foraging ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

GENDER STUDIES: IT’S COMPLICATED

The hogfish is a sequential hermaphrodite, meaning it changes sex during different life stages. Juvenile hogfish are female, but mature into males at around 3 years old.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaHogfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

Hogfish social groups are organized into harems, where one male will protect a group of females in his territory and mate with them.

Hogfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba Hogfish with isopods ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

CAUTIONARY NOTE Capt. Rick, a loyal follower, has made another of his pertinent comments: “A bit of caution is necessary here! There is some history in the Bahamas of mild to severe Ciguatera poisoning from Hogs. Our M.O. was to only eat Hogs no larger than 5 or 6 lbs. Temporary or permanent blindness, paralysis, and even death is possible with bigger Hogs”. Ciguatera is also a problem with, for example, ‘cuda on Abaco. Those caught on the Marls (west) side are ok to eat; those from the east side have to be treated with circumspection…

Hogfish (with isopod above eye) ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Credits: all fantastic fish fotos – Melinda Riger at Grand Bahama Scuba

SANDWICH TERNS: NO LINK TO BREAD SLICES, SAY SCIENTISTS


Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau)

SANDWICH TERNS: NO LINK TO BREAD SLICES, SAY SCIENTISTS

Have you noticed how newspapers and periodicals increasingly seize every opportunity for a headline ending “…say Scientists”. It lends a spurious authority to any tenuous assertion, like “astronauts unlikely to find cheese on moon, say Scientists” (suggesting at least the faint possibility of some mature cheddar lodged in a crater). Or “Frooty-pops cereal may protect against ingrown toenails, say Scientists”.  To which the proper response is: “research reference please”. But it seems 37.9% of people are actually prepared to believe this tendencious stuff… say Scientists.

But I digress. To the business in hand. The Sandwich Tern (Thalasseus sandvicensis) is a smart-looking medium-sized tern. Its clearest ID signifier among terns is a sharp black beak with a yellow tip. Also, its black legs helpfully distinguish it from other tern species that have orange legs.Sandwich Tern (Sandy Point), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

The origin of the name for this species is an unexpected one. The Thaleasseus (formerly Sterna) simply refers to the sea (Gk). The Sandwich part is more complicated. It’s certainly nothing to do with a tasty filling for a sliced bread snack **. Other bird species such as Branta sandvicensis, an endemic Hawaiian goose, have the name because Hawaii was historically known as the Sandwich Islands. But Sandwich terns are not found there. In fact, the name comes from the town name of Sandwich, Kent UK (sand wic OE – ‘trading post by the sea’). The ornithologist who first described the bird in 1787, John Latham, just happened to live there. (And how fortunate for ornithology that he did not come from Pratts Bottom, also in Kent).

Sandwich Tern, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Sandwich terns have a wide range around the world. As the range map below show, the most significant breeding area is Great Britain and northern Europe. On Abaco, the birds are uncommon summer residents. Both images above were taken on the main island, the top one at Sandy Point on the jetty (an excellent place for birdwatching, incidentally).Thalasseus_acuflavidus_and_Thalasseus_sandvicensis_map-location-2.svgSarnie Tern range

Like all the Thalasseus terns, the Sandwich tern plunge-dives for fish. I love the sight of diving terns. They hang high in the air as they scope out the water for fish, only to break free from the sky and smash down into the sea, often emerging with a silver prize. Here’s a wonderful photo of one that missed its meal – and one that succeeded.

Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau)Sandwich Tern (Danny Sauvageau) An endearing characteristic of these terns can be seen during their courtship display. The male will catch a fish, then offer it to the female. Her acceptance of the gift signals her readiness to approve the male as a suitable mate. 

Of the  12 tern species recorded for Abaco most are summer residents, some of which breed on Abaco. The royals are the only permanent residents; and the Forster’s are the only winter residents. The other 4 species are transient in migration, or vagrant (arctic tern).

Tern Species on Abaco

As I have mentioned before, a very good source for easy ID to distinguish between different birds of the same family is to head off to BIRDORABLE. The drawings (cartoons!) may not be scientific, but they do highlight the most notable distinctions. Invaluable as a last resort. Or first resort, even! For similar-looking birds, compare the beaks and the legs. The composite below shows how simple it is.

91b5e2a19a20fb1eeace596efbac5a57

Noisy neighbours? Put this short recording of a sandwich tern colony in the breeding season on a continous loop, and you have the makings of a powerful retaliatory weapon. They’ll be out within a fortnight…

Alex Lees / Xeno-Canto

** The food we call a sandwich was named after the 4th Earl of Sandwich. He found eating while playing cards inconvenient, so asked his valet for two slices of bread, requesting “and squash a tern between them, if you’d be so very kind…” The Sandwich Islands were also named after his Lordship by Captain James Cook, as a compliment for financially supporting an expedition there, say Historians…

Sandwich_Tern_(Sterna_sandvicensis)_(Ken Billington)

Credits: Danny Sauvageau (1, 4, 5); Bruce Hallet (2); Woody Bracey (3); Ken Billington (6); Alex Lees @ Xeno-Canto, Birdorable, wiki for range map & info, other magpie pickings of glistening facts

GETTING THE MEASURE OF TURTLES ON ABACO


Hawksbill Turtle ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scub 4

GETTING THE MEASURE OF TURTLES ON ABACO

A recent summer course on Abaco was held in partnership between Elizabeth Whitman (Florida International University) and Friends of the Environment/Frank Kenyon Centre. Participants learned about sea turtle biology and ecology, and discussed potential threats to the vulnerable population. After a classroom session, the team headed out to Snake Cay Creek to carry out a field survey. The turtles caught were measured, weighed, tagged (if not already), and given a general health assessment. Each turtle was then released.

The data captured by such courses is invaluable in the continuing assessment of the health of the local turtle population. In addition, such projects provide a valuable opportunity for people to become involved in a fascinating and rewarding local conservation project – with a literally hands-on experience.

Turtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, AbacoTurtle measuring project, Abaco

Credits: Beth Whitman, Friends of the Environment, Jacque Cannon, Maureen Collins, Melinda Riger