CUBAN PEWEE: ‘NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT’


Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

CUBAN PEWEE: ‘NATURE’S LEAST SCARY TYRANT’

The small bird featured here is a CUBAN PEWEE Contopus caribaeus bahamensis (sometimes called the Crescent-eyed Pewee – see image for why this is so). It is without a doubt a tyrant. At barely 6″ long, it is the smallest tyrant you are likely to encounter in the Bahamas or indeed anywhere else. However it does happen to be a member of the family Tyranidae. These are the flycatchers, and on Abaco they include the larger LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERthe still larger LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD and (a summer visitor only) the GRAY KINGBIRD (this last link explains the difference between the two kingbirds).

Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

The Cuban Pewee is permanently resident on Abaco, and can be found in both pine woods and coppice. When returning to its perch after a fly-catching sortie – ‘hawking’ on the wing – this wee bird gives a characteristic flick of the tail. The bird featured here was in the rough scrub behind the beach of the beautiful bay at Casuarina. It became a favourite of mine simply by being completely unafraid of me, and accepting my extremely slow approach (3 inches at a time) with apparent interest mixed in with an endearing willingness to pose, even when I could almost have reached out and touched it.

Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

Unlike many creatures, it did not seem concerned by eye-contact. It responded when I made a faint clicking sound by rather sweetly putting its head on one side. However, as I got as close to it as I dared, it began to fidget slightly (possibly feeling camera-shy). So I shuffled slowly back, so as not to disturb it in its own territory, where it was the resident and I was the intruder.

Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

These close-ups clearly show the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak, which (as in other tyrant species) relates to the business of catching flies. Also like other flycatchers, the Cuban Pewee has very distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak. In fact, these are not whiskers as such – not hairs so much as feathers that have modified into bristles. These act as ‘tactile sensors’ to assist the detection and targeting of aerial insects as the bird darts from a perch to intercept some passing tasty winged morsel. 

Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

The range of the Cuban Pewee is limited almost entirely to Cuba and the Bahamas, so it is very region specific. And how lucky we are to have these cute little specimens on Abaco. I note that the Audubon site calls them drab, which I think is a little unfair. Merely because a bird is not decked out like a PAINTED BUNTING or startlingly marked like a male RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD does not make it drab. I prefer the word ‘subtle’.  I like GRASSQUITS too, for the same reason: too often maligned as ‘dull’.

Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

It is sometimes tempting to anthropomorphise such close encounters in terms of imputed human / creature empathy. It is probably best to try to resist that attitude (‘inter-species condescension’, as you might term it). But as I withdrew, leaving this little bird undisturbed on its branch, I did experience a strange feeling of mutual understanding and… [I must interrupt myself here. I’m a lawyer, so that’s quite enough of that sort of emotive nonsense]

All photos: Keith Salvesen; Range Map, Cornell

Cuban Pewee, Contopus caribaeus bahamensis, Casuarina Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen Photography)

ROCKET MAN: MORE MUSKY GIFTS TO ABACO’S PRISTINE BEACHES


Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

ROCKET MAN: MORE MUSKY GIFTS TO ABACO’S PRISTINE BEACHES

THE STORY SO FAR

In early December a SpaceX (prop. E. Musk) Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral. As it sped off purposefully into Space, the usual associated bits and pieces were jettisoned to fall with great precision into (a) open ocean and (b) a part where shipping was fortuitously absent. In due course (very quickly in fact), chunks of rocket debris turned up on the peaceful shores of Abaco. This is not unheard of: for example in 2012 we had a 12-foot fairing from the Curiosity Mars launch on the beach at Delphi (HERE); and in 2015 other space debris was found on Elbow Cay:

A CHUNK OF SPACE HISTORY, ELBOW CAY, ABACO, BAHAMAS (2015)   

The latest space-debris festival on Abaco’s shorelines in December was first discovered at Bahama Palm Shores. ID was established from the partial red SpaceX / Musk logo visible in the below. The new arrival added to the ongoing excitement there of a huge 50′ and (sadly) dead sperm washing back onto the beach in a state of unattractive and ‘stay-upwind-at-all-costs’  decomposition…

Falcon 9 Rocket Fragment on the beach at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (2018) Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris, Bahamas Palm Shores, Abaco Bahamas Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Bahama Palm Shores Abaco

This was quickly followed by a report from Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay. You can read the details of these 2 events as follows: BPS HERE and Elbow Cay HERE

Falcon 9 Rocket Fragment on Tahiti Beach, Elbow Cay Abaco BahamasFalcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Mary McHenry)

As I mentioned in the Tahiti Beach post, a report from the west side of Abaco had just reached me from Charlotte Dunn, Director of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) at Sandy Point, Abaco. This was a surprising location because – with space-junk washing up on both sides of Abaco – an inference might be that the ‘drop’ area for nose-cones, fairings and the like might be somewhat wider than expected. Possibly wide enough to include a direct hit on land? Anyway, as promised, Charlotte has now had time to take some photos of Sandy Point’s involvement in the saga. 

Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)   Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO) Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Sandy Point Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The top photo shows a long strip of space rocket, curving at one end. It’s obviously part of a larger part that was ejected after launch. In the Falcon 9 image below (note the logo matching the BPS part), the eye is drawn to the booster rocket fairings. Maybe it’s part of one of those. It’s not my area, so correction is invited, and probably welcomed if polite…

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch padFalcon 9 rocket - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

WHERE ARE THE LOCATIONS IN RELATION TO EACH OTHER? 

WILL THERE BE ANYMORE SPACE TREASURE WASHED UP ON ABACO?

With 3 sites now involved, and on both sides of the island, it seems very likely that more has washed up. However, there is so much unfrequented or inaccessible shoreline on Abaco that there may be no further reports from this launch. High tides will most likely take debris back out to sea and relocate it elsewhere.. We’ll have to see…

CAN I ‘BORROW’ A BIT OF ROCKET TO JOIN MY SEA GLASS COLLECTION?

That’s a very interesting question, thank you for raising it. We are in a grey area here, somewhere between things that (seem to) have been thrown away / discarded / abandoned by their owner (res nullius), which may be fair game; and items where it is safest to assume that – despite the careless and indeed haphazard nature of their ‘loss’ – they might still be of value, use or significance to the owner. Each case has to be looked at on its merits; overall, I suspect Mr Musk would like his parts back; alternatively that he may not want anyone else to take possession of them… He is litigious. Your call! In the UK people are bidden to take lost property to a Police Station. You could try that.

Falcon 9 SpaceX Rocket Debris Bahama Palm Shores Abaco

WHAT OTHER SPACE-X FLIGHTS OVER / NEAR ABACO ARE PLANNED?

Thanks to Jack Bowers who sent me the link to the SpaceX schedule. Here are some recent completed missions. Note the top one, a launch on 11th January. Now check your local beach…

DO YOU HAVE ONE OF YOUR MUSICAL DIGRESSIONS?

CREDITS: Jack Bowers & others at BPS; Mary McHenry (Elbow Cay); Sandy Walker (Delphi); SpaceX / Space News + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material; random debris from OS material

Mars Curiosity Launch: fairing on Delphi beach, Abaco 2012 (Sandy Walker)Mars Curiosity Launch: fairing on Delphi beach, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: ENJOY THEM WHILE YOU CAN


Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: ENJOY THEM WHILE YOU CAN

Pliny the Elder (CE 23–79) was one of the earliest naturalists, besides being a philosopher, author and military commander. He wrote Naturalis Historia (Natural History), a wide-ranging work that became a model for later scholarly works, including forms of Encyclopedia. And, as he so nearly wrote, ‘si non amas testudines, vacua anima tua est’ (he that loves not sea turtles, has an empty mind)*

Hawksbill turtle grazing while a French angelfish looks onHawksbill Turtle with French Angelfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

There can be few better ways to start the New Year than with some gorgeous Hawksbill Turtles  Eretmochelys imbricata, plus a sprinkling of turtle facts to give 2019 a good push into orbit. Fortunately still available in Bahamas waters, the continued existence of Hawksbills is under serious threat. Make the most of your opportunities.

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

  • Guesstimates of the world Hawksbill Turtle population suggest that there are 5 main groups in the oceans, with few enough individuals – especially breeding females – to warrant an IUCN listing of the species as critically endangered
  • I doubt that many will forget that the next IUCN category is… extinct (≠ ‘fun fact’)
  • The largest Hawksbill colony in the world nests on an island in Queensland Australia
  • Turtles leave the sea to lay eggs in a hole dug on the beach, before returning to the sea.
  • The eggs hatch after c60 days… the turtlings emerge and are then on their own
  • Hawksbills are omnivorous, mainly eating sponges (& immune from sponge toxins)
  • They also eat sea anemones, mollusks, and jellyfish
  • Their grazing lifestyle is an important component of a healthy coral reef ecosystem

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

  • Though their shells are hard, Hawksbills are prey for sharks, crocodiles, octopuses and the biggest predator of all, humans“.
  • Despite international Hawkbill protection and conservation measures, they continue to be illegally hunted – including, in some places, for food.
  • Their lovely shells – tortoiseshell – are illegally traded for use for ornaments and jewellery
  • Japan makes its own rules (as with whales) for traditional & no doubt research purposes
  • ‘Tortoiseshell’ is the illegal item most frequently confiscated by custom officials
  • Reef and beach degradation, development, light pollution (confuses the baby turtles trying to paddle to the sea), ocean pollution / marine debris, and illegal practices are among the greatest dangers to the survival of the species. All are caused, directly or indirectly, by you and indeed me

Hawksbill T ©Melinda Riger + G B Scuba copy.jpg

Credits: wonderful photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba (1, 2, 5) & Adam Rees / Scuba Works (3, 4, 6); Widecast; Nature Conservancy; OneKind Planet

Hawksbill Turtle Bahamas (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

* Do not believe this – I invented it. The quote that props up the pretentious stuff, that is – all the rest is true…

ROCKET SCIENCE ON ABACO (2) / ELON-GATE: MORE SPACE DEBRIS


ROCKET SCIENCE ON ABACO (2) / ELON-GATE: MORE SPACE DEBRIS

Having seasonally gifted Bahamas Palm Shores the benefit of the debris from his recent Falcon 9 rocket launch (see last post from BPS HERE) it turns out that Mr EM has spread his munificence rather wider on Abaco. And there may be still more to come.

I pressed the ‘publish’ button re BPS a couple of days ago. Within hours, a further report was posted on the resulting FB thread. From Elbow Cay came the news that more space-related debris had washed up on beautiful Tahiti Beach. Mary McHenry posted 2 photos of a strange chunk of junk. I think we can reasonably assume that is from a rocket; and the timing is consistent with it being related to EM and his recent SpaceX program activities.

Mary’s photos show both sides of the gently curved item. I’ve no idea what part this is or what it does, but I hope that we can find out. It looks like a bit of fuselage, and presumably it is one of the parts that detach in the aftermath of a launch and falls back to earth to make an attractive and thought-provoking addition to the ocean and to whichever beach it turns up on.

In this case, it was Tahiti Beach (above), one of the most beautiful locations on Abaco. It is a beach in which I have a particular interest, because each year rare piping plovers hang out there in singles and pairs. It doesn’t seem to be their home, more like a little short-break destination for some quality foraging away from their usual stamping grounds. And to check out any space-based embellishments, of course.

Piping Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the launch padFalcon 9 rocket - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

ANY MORE ASTONISHING ABACO SPACE HQ REVELATIONS IN THE PIPELINE?

Yes indeed. Within a few more hours I was contacted by Charlotte Dunn, Director of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) at Sandy Point, Abaco. They too had found some space stuff on their beach. This is interesting because, whereas Bahama Palm Shores and Tahiti Beach are on the east side of mainland Abaco, Sandy Point is on the west side. Somehow the debris seems to have spread surprisingly far and wide to both sides of Abaco

I’m waiting for some photos from Charlotte, then I’ll post Part 3 of what may be quite a long sequence. I say that in particular, because yesterday day there was news that another SpaceX Falcon 9 had been launched from Cape Canaveral carrying military hardware into space. I think we can guess where some of the components of this enterprise may wash up – those large pieces that detach over the ocean as the rocket ascends through the earth’s atmosphere into space. Keep your beach-combing shoes** handy… and a camera, maybe.

Tahiti Beach (drone’s-eye view)Tahiti beach, Elbow Cay, Abaco Bahamas (David Rees)

CREDITS: Mary McHenry (1, 2); Samantha Regan; Bruce Hallett (bird); SpaceX + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material; David Rees (drone view); cartoon, OS; festive Christmas Tree Worms, the wonderful Melinda Riger (without whom… etc etc)

** Mmm. I don’t think these are a ‘thing’ at all; in this context I probably just mean ‘feet’

FINALLY, A VERY HAPPY XMAS TO ALL THOSE THAT TOLERATE THIS BLOG AND KINDLY COME BACK FOR MOREChristmas Tree Worms, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

SPACE DEBRIS ON ABACO: YES, IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE


Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

SPACE DEBRIS ON ABACO: YES, IT IS ROCKET SCIENCE

December has seen two remarkable events on Abaco. First, a huge dead sperm whale (estimated 50′ long) washed up at Bahama Palm Shores. Sharks had already had a go at it, and it was beginning to putrefy. An autopsy was unable to determine the cause of death (ship-strike is presumably a contender). It continued to decompose on the shoreline, becoming extremely… well, best kept at a distance. And upwind of it. I’ll post about the sad end of this magnificent creature – the largest marine mammal in the Bahamas – in a couple of weeks, after the festivities at Rolling Harbour Towers have calmed down.

———————————

STOP PRESS 🚀 you haven’t even reached the rocket part of this yet, but just to say that a few hours after posting this article, other reports of bits of Mr Musk’s rocket debris washed up on beaches are coming in  – Tahiti Beach EC, and just now from BMMRO at Sandy Point. I’ll update tomorrow. 🚀

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Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas   Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

The second big news event for South Abaco was the discovery of a massive piece of (formerly) airborne debris drifting onto the BPS beach. Everyone was hoping the item wasn’t part of a plane fuselage, as it initially appeared to be. From the initial photos it looked to me like something from a rocket launch, maybe part of a booster rocket. It reminded me of the 12 foot part of a booster rocket fairing from the Atlas 5 rocket which launched Curiosity on its Mars mission, that washed up on the Delphi beach in early 2012. The men in black eventually came to reclaim it… More on that HERE

THIS REALLY IS ROCKET SCIENCE THEN?

Quite soon the mystery of the object’s purpose and origin began to get clearer. Luc Lavallee was quick to recognise the red external markings as matching Elon Musk’s logo, as used by his SpaceX venture. Events moved quickly. Contact with Musk’s operation confirmed that this was indeed “one of theirs”, a part from the latest launch a few days before.

AFTER a large chunk of strange space debris of (initially) unknown originFalcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

BEFORE Elon Musk’s complete Falcon 9 Rocket – note the red identFalcon 9 rocket - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

SO WHAT ON EARTH* WAS THIS CHUNK OF SPACE DEBRIS?

In the end the item was identified as part of the shroud from a Falcon 9 rocket. There was plenty of opportunity to take a good look at some of the workings. There’s potential here for some quality beach-combing (who would not want an ‘Actuator Latch Right’ rod in their living room?). There are interesting legal considerations in this type of situation… [Worried reader: please, no, I beg you]. Moving on, here’s a selection of rocket bits for contemplation.

Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas  Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco BahamasFalcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas  Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

More info was gathered, including the discovery of an astounding video from a camera fastened to a Falcon 9 rocket’s payload fairing, showing the nose cone spinning through space after its separation on a satellite launch earlier this year.

WHAT DOES A ROCKET SHROUD DO?

The nose shroud shields satellites during final preflight preparations and the early stages of launch. Once the rocket reaches space — an altitude above 100 kms / 62 miles — it jettisons the payload fairing to fall back into the ocean. The Falcon 9’s fairing is released in two halves, like a clamshell.

* This is the sort of occasion when people write ‘no pun intended’, though in fact they generally intend one, just rather a feeble one. Like mine, in fact. 

CREDITS: Jack Bowers and others from the BPS community for photos, info and investigative acumen; SpaceX + Spaceflight Now (unclassified) online material + videos generously posted on YT; USA Today 

Falcon 9 rocket shroud - Space Debris - Elon Musk - SpaceX - Abaco Bahamas

PURPLE VASE SPONGES: BAHAMAS REEF ORNAMENTS


Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

PURPLE VASE SPONGES: BAHAMAS REEF ORNAMENTS

The Purple Vase is an unmistakeable sponge, a colourful reef creature (for they are animals, of course) that stands even out amongst the bright corals that surround it. And like corals, sponges are vulnerable to all the usual threats (mainly human-generated).

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Catch them while you can in the clear waters of the Bahamas while stocks last. I say this because as study after study concludes, the prospects of reef-mageddon get closer each year. When the corals die off, so in all probability will the sponges and anemones…

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

After such a depressing intro, let’s move on to take a positive look at the purple vase sponge. As with all sponges, once a newborn sponge is wafted by the current to a place on the reef, it takes root there throughout its life. There, these attractive sponges exist by filtering the water that surrounds them, separating out plankton to feed on. Static filter-feeders, if you will.

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

You’ll notice that in some of the photographs, the sponges have guests. These are BRITTLE STARS, and they are often found on – and indeed in – purple vases. This is a form of symbiotic relationship known as commensalism, in which one species benefits and the other is neither benefitted nor harmed. The brittle star gains a shelter and a safe base for feeding; the vase gets a harmless companion. Small fishes benefit from the vases in a similar way.

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

Besides the impact of damaging human interventions (which may be permanent), extreme weather events also affect reef life and the static inhabitants adversely. Storms and hurricanes can cause localised havoc, but the damage is not necessarily permanent. The reef can in time repopulate naturally and flourish again. Humans can even promote this recovery. The photograph above shows a purple vase sponge that was detached from the reef by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Melinda Riger in effect replanted it on the reef and it reattached itself and grew. In due course it even acquired its brittle star occupant. 

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

*JIMI AND ‘PURPLE VASE’ – A VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

In an interview with NME Hendrix is reported to have said that Purple Haze “was about a dream I had that I was walking under the sea.” Originally the song was intended to be ‘Purple Vase’, and reflect the psychedelic experience of life on a coral reef. Realising he was getting bogged down by sub-aquatic imagery (he was a non-swimmer), he toked for a while and then ‘Purple Haze’ emerged almost fully formed. He was always far happier kissing the sky than wandering about under the waves. Most covers of the song are pale imitations of the original, but here’s a rather unusual take that succeeds by trying a different approach…

Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba for all great photos; magpie pickings for bits and pieces, with a shout-out to ‘Critter Squad’ for its informative site aimed at kids. And amateur grown-ups can benefit too… commensalism in humans; Friend ‘n’ Fellow audio

Purple Vase Sponge, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…


Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. The principals Diane Claridge and Charlotte Dunn with their team cover not only Abaco waters but the whole of the Bahamas. Their research work is complex, and some of it is carried out in conjunction with partners on specific projects or more generally.

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Which brings me to SailorDolphin Research, a project that involves the meticulous mapping, photographing, and recording of the details of each sighting. Much of the work is carried out in the Bahamas in partnership with BMMRO. The link will take you to the homepage, which notes “This website provides a list of Dolphins that I have documented on the US East coast and the Bahamas. It includes details (with photos & notes) for each dolphin and lists of their sightings from my personal database.” If you have an interest in dolphins (and who does not?), it will repay exploration – and you will see some awesome photographs. Here are a few of them to admire. 

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Now imagine yourself in the water, with these wonderful creatures cutting through the water in front of you, working their sleek bodies just below the surface, jostling and cavorting, occasionally letting a fin cut through the water. Hold that thought… Right, get back to work!

All photos courtesy of SailorDolphin / BMMRO

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)