BAHAMAS TURTLES: BE AWARE BUT DON’T BEWARE


Green Turtle Eye (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

GREEN TURTLE WATCHING

BAHAMAS TURTLES: BE AWARE BUT DON’T BEWARE

MAY 23 is another one of those ‘species awareness’ days. Somewhere in the world, it seems that every day of the year has a creature to be aware of. As the Sixth Extinction looms (the one we’ve promoted in basically two generations), a state of heightened awareness is where we should all be at. 

TURTLES BY ADAM REES / SCUBA WORKS

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Hawksbill Turtle (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

That’s not an end in itself of course – it’s merely the first step to doing something about the species in question… and beyond that, every species. We’ve screwed up their world for them. Awareness is just a wake-up call to action. Support a cause. Join an organisation or group. Support campaigns. Sign up. Write stuff. Do stuff. Don’t do other stuff. Even wearing a “Save the Great-crested Newt” T-shirt would be better than nothing.

TURTLES BY MELINDA RIGER / GRAND BAHAMA SCUBA

Hawksbill Turtle (Virginia Cooper / Grand Bahama Scuba) Hawksbill Turtle (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Hawksbill Turtle (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Back to the turtles. I have featured a few great sea turtle photos (none of them mine) to concentrate the mind on today’s special species – one of the most loved and admired of the sea creatures of the Bahamas archipelago. If they go, we humans may not be far behind (but at least we won’t have stomachs full of plastic trash).

TURTLES: HAPPY TOGETHER!

Credits: Melinda Riger, Adam Rees, Virginia Cooper – and to all for their work in revealing the wonderful world beneath the ocean waves

Hawksbill Turtle (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

 

WHEN NEW PROVIDENCE WAS OLD: MAPPING BAHAMAS HISTORY



Map of New Providence / Nassau Bahamas (early c18)

WHEN NEW PROVIDENCE WAS OLD: MAPPING BAHAMAS HISTORY

“Exact Draught of the Island of New Providence, One of the Bahama Islands in the West Indies”

I’m revisiting this post because (a) there’s been a bit of online interest in this period of history recently (b) I’m on a boat with limited comms and (c) because I was born lazy.

Lateral thinking is one thing; topsy-turvy thinking is in another league. The map that graces the top of this page is of New Providence and Nassau in the the early c18. By today’s exacting mapping conventions, which historically were less rigorously  observed, it is upside-down, with Nassau on what we would call the south-west corner. The map is undated on the face of it, and I have found attributed dates of both 1700 and 1750. It could be anywhere in-between. At the time this map was made, New Providence was sparsely populated except for Nassau itself; and little was known about the island’s interior. Contemporary accounts describe a haven for pirates operating around the coastline. Not for nothing was Nassau protected by a battery and a fort. I’ve divided to map into sections to make it easier to take a closer look at each area. You can click each to enlarge.

new-providence-c18-map-part-7-2

  1. TOP LEFT CORNER (the south-east of NP in actuality), with the compass pointing downwards to the north. A smattering of houses dot the ‘west’ coast. There is one significant property above Little Sound, standing in what looks like a cleared or even cultivated area. I’ll look at that in more detail below. Note the words above The Great Salt Water Sound: “Very High Pines Grow Here Aboue (sic)”, evidence that forests of tall pines familiar even today on Abaco were found on NP 300 years ago. The island is otherwise mostly marked as if the landscape was fairly open.

new-providence-c18-map-part-1

2. TOP RIGHT CORNER (south-west & west), with the confident title in a cartouche proclaiming exactness. This was not uncommon in historic map-making – the cartographical equivalent of today’s boastful product slogans – ‘simply the best’ and so on**. The caption next to the Great Sound, This Part of the Country is little Known, suggests an unexplored and perhaps hostile environment – possibly one of marshes and bogs. This sector of the island appears to have been uninhabited, or at least to having no population centres worth recording.

new-providence-c18-map-part-3-2

3. BOTTOM RIGHT CORNER (north-west). At last there is more evidence habitation, with a string of dwellings along the coastline. The 2 cays shown have names, West End and ‘Pellican’. And it looks as though the two ships have set out from port. On the left side of the bay above them, a church can be seen. I’m not sure what the double row of crosses indicates (maybe someone can help here), but I wondered if they might indicate the area close to the shoreline that might be safe – or at least safer – from pirate attack. The leading ship – as the detailed crop shows clearly – is a warship. No harm in romantically speculating that it is escorting a trading vessel…

new-providence-c18-map-part-4

new-providence-c18-map-part-5

4. BOTTOM MIDDLE SECTION As we move towards the main – indeed only – town on the island, it is clear that the northern coast was the most desirable place to live. The scattering of houses along the coast continues; and the captions for the ponds show a possible reason why: fresh water, on an island where other areas of water are actually marked as ‘salt’ or which might have been unpleasantly brackish. And now we can see more of the posh establishment I referred to above. Not only did it lie in open (or perhaps cultivated) country, but it was plainly of some importance. It is notably larger that other buildings depicted, for a start; and it has its own very long track that forks off the coastal track.

new-providence-c18-map-part-10

5. BOTTOM LEFT CORNER: NASSAU We have reached the big city, the centre of the population, and the port – with the harbour entrance handily marked. It bore the same name then as now; though the other names marked (as far as I can make out) have mostly if not all changed over 3 centuries. The Baha Mar development and its attendant travails seem light years away from this map. The double line of crosses ends here (bottom right at the first cay). If they marked a safe zone for vessels passing back and forth into Nassau harbour, they did not need to extend further because of the town fortifications (see detailed crop). There is a fort right on the shore; and at the far end of the harbour sound is a battery at Drewitt’s Point. The town is watched over by a substantial building – presumably a Governor’s residence – that is surrounded by a stockade . In the early c18 Nassau put on a show of strength to deter invaders and pirates.

new-providence-c18-map-part-2new-providence-c18-map-part-14

DO WE KNOW THE EXACT DRAUGHT’S EXACT DATE?

The map itself is undated. The Library of Congress, whose map I have chopped up for this post, simply dates it as 17– and notes: 

Manuscript, pen-and-ink and watercolor; Has watermark; Oriented with north to the bottom; Relief shown pictorially and by shading; Depths shown by soundings.

The excellent David Rumsey Historical Map Collection chooses the year 1750, the maker unknown. Another source puts the date at 1700.

Whichever, a clue to establish the map in the first half of the c18 is that the publisher is believed to be ‘William Innys [et al.]’, London. Innys and his brother John (the ‘et al’ presumably) were active at that time. In 1726, for example, they published an edition of Newton’s  Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica (first published in 1687), indicating that they must already have been well-established.

new-providence-c18-map-part-7-2

WHAT ABOUT THE PIRATES?

The “Deposition of  Capt. Matthew Musson” made on  5 Jul 1717 in London, contains some excellent contemporary  pirate-based material. The middle passage in particular gives an indication how well organised and extremely well-armed the pirates were. And it is clear that piracy was actually driving inhabitants away from New Providence.

  • “On March last he was cast away on the Bahamas. At Harbour Island he found about 30 families, with severall pirates, which frequently are comeing and goeing to purchase provissons for the piratts vessells at Providence. There were there two ships of 90 tons which sold provissons to the said pirates, the sailors of which said they belong’d to Boston”.
  • “At Habakoe one of the Bahamas he found Capt. Thomas Walker and others who had left Providence by reason of the rudeness of the pirates and settled there. They advis’d him that five pirates made ye harbour of Providence their place of rendevous vizt. [Benjamin] Horngold, a sloop with 10 guns and about 80 men; [Henry] Jennings, a sloop with 10 guns and 100 men; [Josiah(s)] Burgiss, a sloop with 8 guns and about 80 men; [Henry?] White, in a small vessell with 30 men and small armes; [Edward] Thatch, a sloop 6 gunns and about 70 men. All took and destroyd ships of all nations except Jennings who took no English; they had taken a Spanish ship of 32 gunns, which they kept in the harbour for a guardship”.
  • “Ye greatest part of the inhabitants of Providence are. already gone into other adjacent islands to secure themselves from ye pirates, who frequently plunder them. Most of the ships and vessells taken by them they burn and destroy when brought into the harbour and oblidge the menn to take on with them. The inhabitants of those Isles are in a miserable condition at present, but were in great hopes that H.M. would be graciously pleas’d to take such measures, which would speedily enable them to return to Providence their former settlement, there are severall more pirates than he can now give an accot. of that are both to windward and to leward of Providence that may ere this be expected to rendevous there he being apprehensive that unless the Governmt. fortify this place the pirates will to protect themselves”. Signed, Mathew Musson. Endorsed, Read 5th July, 1717. 1½ pp. [C.O. 5, 1265. No. 73.]

new-providence-c18-map-part-11

CAN I BUY THIS MAP FOR MY WALL?

You certainly can. Well, not an original obviously. But you can find prints of it on eBay and elsewhere – just google the map title. You can get a modern copy for around $20 + shipping

** I have an enjoyable example of this tendency on a William Guthrie map of Europe dated c1800. A map from “the beft authorities” could surely have no serious rival!img_4771

Credits: Library of Congress Online Catalog (Geography and Map Division); David Rumsey Historical Map Collection; Baylus C Brooks, Professional Research & Maritime Historian, Author, & Conservator / “America and West Indies: July 1717, 1-15,” in Calendar of State Papers Colonial, America and West Indies: Volume 29, 1716-1717, ed. Cecil Headlam (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1930), 336-344; Bonhams (Auctioneers)

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (52)


ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (52)

I last featured the cheerfully-coloured Rock Beauty Holacanthus tricolor 2 or 3 years back. Time has passed; new photos exist; new people have signed up to follow this eclectic menagerie (thank you both). Time for another look at these beauties, which also happen to be cuties.

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Look at the little guy above –  posing for Pixar, adorably hoping to star in Part 3 of the Nemo / Dory trilogy

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

These fish are a small species of angelfish. Seen swimming around the reefs they are unmistakeable, not least because of their bright yellow hi-viz jackets, remarkable blue eyeliner and blue-black lippy. 

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Rock Beauties look like prime candidates for anyone’s aquarium, but their picky dietary requirements and tendency for aggression make them unsuitable.

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

They are highly specialised feeders, needing marine sponge in their daily diet. They are also prone to chase their tank-mates and nip them. On balance, they look more fetching nosing about the coral anyway.

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

WHAT DO JUVENILES LOOK LIKE?

Juvenile rock beauties are cute mini-versions of the adults, only more yellow and with yellow lips. In some development stages, they have a smart blue circle around the dark patch on their sides (bottom image).

ROCK BEAUTY: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (Melinda Riger / GB Scuba)

Rock Beauty, Bahamas (Living Oceans Foundation))

NOTE Rock Beauties have no known kinship with Chrissie, Debbie, Lita, Joan, Jennifer, Stevie, Madge and the rest of the accredited ‘Rock Beauties aka Chicks’ 

NOT A TRUE ‘ROCK BEAUTY’ (no offence, Lita)

A TRUE ROCK BEAUTY

Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; WP

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS


Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous are small marine gastropod molluscs related to cowries. The living animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the so-called ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale, and characterised by a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THE IMPORTANCE OF CORAL

Flamingo tongue snails feed by browsing on soft corals. Often, they will leave tracks behind them on the coral stems as they forage (see image below). But corals are not only food – they provide the ideal sites for the creature’s breeding cycle.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Dive Abaco, Bahamas)Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

The principal purpose of the patterned mantle of tissue over the shell is to act as the creature’s breathing apparatus. The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As it has been (unkindly?) described, the mantle is “basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THREATS AND DEFENCE

The species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include hogfish, pufferfish and spiny lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins, and instead of secreting these after feeding, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many animal species.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

MANKIND’S CONTRIBUTION

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the actual shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… dead snails and “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

The photos below are of nude flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Image Credits:  Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

PILOT WHALES: “DIVIDED BY A COMMON SEA”


Pilot Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Rolling Harbour)

PILOT WHALES: “DIVIDED BY A COMMON SEA”

You know the thing about Britain and the US being ‘two Nations divided by a common language’? Among the many august people credited with first coming up with this remark, the leading contenders are Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill. Generally, Wilde seems to be considered the winning author**. Whichever, the saying is intended to be lightly and amusingly rude, probably to both nations.

Pilot Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Rolling Harbour)

Well, pilot whales are in a similar position. They are found on both sides of the Atlantic (and many other places of course). As acoustic analysis of the sounds made by marine mammals becomes increasingly sophisticated, the evidence suggests that a pilot whale in The Canary Islands saying “Hey guys, meal approaching 11.00 o’clock, moving right, 30 feet” will use different sounds from its counterpart in the Bahamas.

A pilot whale with a recent injury to its jaw. Chief suspect: a COOKIECUTTER SHARK?Pilot Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Rolling Harbour)

Short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorynchus) are also known as blackfish or potheads (though some may reserve this last term for – ahem – higher species). As with MELON-HEADED WHALES, they are in fact a species of large dolphin. They can grow to nearly 20′ long and weigh accordingly.

Pilot whales live in large pods of 50 or more. These are so-called ‘matrilineal’ groups, meaning that they consist of 2 or even 3 generations of related females. When the sea is calm, they sometimes adopt a behaviour known as ‘logging’, in which they will spend a long time – maybe hours – lying on the surface in tight groups.

Pilot Whales, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Rolling Harbour)

In The Bahamas, pilot whales are seen year-round but are more common during the spring and summer months. Some are resident, but Bahama pilot whales appear to have large ranging patterns. Pilot whales tagged in The Bahamas have travelled as far north as North Carolina suggesting they are part of a population located in the US southeast .

HOW DO RESEARCHERS RECOGNISE EACH ANIMAL?

The first place to look is the dorsal fin. There are (at least) two reasons for this. First, it’s the part of the dolphin / whale that is most visible through binoculars; secondly, it is the part that tends to acquire nicks, ragged edges, and scar patterns that are unique to that animal. When a new cetacean is sighted, it is logged and assigned an ID. This will usually be kept simple and scientific: “look, there’s AL16 again” and so on; how unlike birds, where banders assign names such as Felicia Fancybottom, Bahama Mama and Harry Potter.  

If you look at #2 above, notice the distinctive hooked dorsal fin of the right-hand pilot of the trio. An easy ID for future sightings. And see below for nicks and scarring.

Pilot Whales - dorsal fin ID, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO / Rolling Harbour)

MEANWHILE, 3643 MILES EAST ACROSS THE ATLANTIC

Last Autumn my niece and her family went to La Gomera, a small volcanic island in the Canaries. They all went on a whale / dolphin watching trip and were delighted to encounter a group of pilot whales. My great nephew, not yet a teenager, had an iphone with him and in the circumstances of standing on a moving platform photographing creatures swimming fast through the water, he did a very good job. A couple of them even have a bonus shearwater.

Pilot Whales, La Gomera, Canary Isles (Rolling Harbour / YN) Pilot Whales, La Gomera, Canary Isles (Rolling Harbour / YN) Pilot Whales, La Gomera, Canary Isles (Rolling Harbour / YN) Pilot Whales, La Gomera, Canary Isles (Rolling Harbour / YN) Pilot Whales, La Gomera, Canary Isles (Rolling Harbour / YN)

The west and east Atlantic pilot whales shown here are almost exactly on the same latitude

I’m not particularly bothered by my lack of photographic eptitude, but even I feel that my own shot of a pilot whale  in the Sea of Abaco rates high in the list of epic fails

The identity of the photographer is protected under the Official Secrets Act 1989

** ‘We have really everything in common with America nowadays except, of course, language’ Oscar Wilde The Canterville Ghost (1887)

Photo Credits: 1 – 5, BMMRO / Rolling Harbour; 6 – 10, my naturalist nephew Yarin; 11, name withheld by order of the management; 12, Marina Nolte / Wiki. General thanks: Diane, Charlotte, BMMRO

Pilot Whale (Marina Nolte / Wiki)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)


Artocarpus altilis - breadfruit (Hans Hillewaert)

BREADFRUIT: NATURE’S BOUNTY (WITH ADDED MUTINY)

Capt. William Bligh achieved fame for all the wrong reasons. Despite a distinguished and wide-ranging seafaring career he is widely remembered for just two things: (1) The Bounty and (2) Mutiny On. In 1787, he was dispatched to Tahiti to collect specimens of BREADFRUIT (a fruit of the Pacific islands, in particular Polynesia) to help provide food for the British colonies in the West Indies. To be clear, the breadfruit was intended to be a basic and cheap staple food not just for settlers but also for the indigenous population. I think we can all guess the status of the latter at that time.

Breadfruit 2

‘BLIGH’S BLIGHT’ – MUTINY!

Capt. Bligh’s Bounty crew unfortunately mutinied – possibly to do with the amount of water the breadfruit required in transit, compared to their own meagre rations. So they threw overboard the hundreds of breadfruit plants that were in transit. Then they set Bligh with his loyal officers and crew adrift… He was later court-martialled but cleared of culpability for provoking a mutiny by his conduct. 

Mutiny on the HMS Bounty (Robert Dodd)

This isn’t the place for a disquisition on the Mutiny. You can read all about it HERE. Or better still, watch one of the rollicking all-star-cast films based loosely on the episode for a careful and accurate historical record of the events that will buckle your swash…

Mutiny_on_the_Bounty_Poster (1935) 220px-Poster_for_Mutiny_on_the_Bounty

BLIGH’S SECOND CHANCE

Following that skirmish, and indeed blemish, on his record, in 1793 Capt. Bligh was yet again charged with the task of shipping breadfruit trees from their origin to the Caribbean. His heart must have sunk, yet finally he succeeded, only for those on the eating end to express considerable distaste for such a bland, starchy fruit. It took a long time to catch on, and its culinary versatility was only discovered many decades later. By which time slavery had thankfully been abolished anyway.

 Breadfruit image (Pacific site)

The most famous breadfruit tree in all Abaco is to be found in Hope Town, on Elbow Cay. I can do no better than display the notice that proudly proclaims the historic significance of the tree and its eponymous fruit.

Breadfruit Tree Notice, Hope Town Abaco (Dp PatersonBreadfruit Tree, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

Unusually for a fruit plant, a true breadfruit Artocarpus altilis does not produce seeds. It is propagated by removing the suckers that grow at at the base of the tree.

For those unfamiliar with the fruit and its interior, here it is in both slice and cross-sectionBreadfruit sliced (US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center)

BREADFRUIT IN ART

Breadfruit has (somewhat surprisingly?) received some artistic recognition over the years. Here are a few examples. The first, very jolly, includes early representations of the Polydamus Swallowtail butterfly; the second is quite dull; the third is instructional (oddly equating breadfruit with tea, coffee and chocolate); and the fourth, frankly not at all appetising to look at…

Breadfruit with butterflies (Royal Botanic Garden, Kew)Breadfruit (Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew)

                                 Breadfruit (John Frederick Miller)                                  Breadfruit drawing John Frederick Miller

      Breadfruit & related plants used as food (William Rhind (1841)     Breadfruit etc William Rhind (1841)

Breadfruit - Bahamas Stamp

SO WHERE DOES BREADFRUIT GROW NOW?

Breadfruit will flourish only within a certain latitude range where the rainfall and temperature suit it, as this map shows. I include this information in case you ever find yourself in the awkward position of being socially stranded with someone whose conversation has become soporific. Be armed with some useful worldwide breadfruit stats for just such an occasion – the fact that Madagascar is a suitable yet not a very good location, for example (not enough rainfall). You will soon find yourself alone…

Breadfruit - the world propagation range

A CULINARY TREAT

Breadfruit is sometimes thought to be a dull and untasty, at least compared with many other fruits. I thought I’d include a recipe or two that rather appealed to me – the second because even I could do that… it’s within my shamefully limited culinary skill-set.

Breadfruit Recipe (myrecipefriends.com)

BAKED BREADFRUIT

Large, ripe breadfruit 1 cup water Butter 1 lime or lemon

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Put the water in a shallow pan and place the whole breadfruit in the water. Bake in oven for three hours. Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly, peel, removing the large core and stem. Cut the fruit into sections and place in a serving dish. Cover with butter and a squeeze of lime or lemon juice.

A PERFECT HOPE TOWN BREADFRUIT
Breadfruit, Hope Town Abaco (Dp Paterson)

This post was inspired by an article on breadfruit and the Hope Town tree by local historian Deb ‘DP’ Patterson, who will be known to many for her committed involvement with the Wyannie Malone Historical Museum in Hope Town. I’m grateful to her for permission to use her idea and indeed some of her material, in particular her photos of the tree and its notice. I originally posted this about 4 years ago, and have dusted it off for the benefit of new (thank you!) followers who might also have breadfruitphilia.

If you do visit this delightful little town, the museum is a treasure house of Abaconian history that deserves a visit. You can check out its website HERE and the FB page HERE.

Wyannie Malone Museum Crest, Hope Town, Abaco

BLIGH’S END

Capt. Bligh managed to put his breadfruit adventures and the mutiny behind him. He continued a distinguished naval career with successive command of an impressive number of  ships. He ended up a Vice-Admiral, and (on his death in 1817) in a grave in Lambeth, London.

V-A William Bligh (1814)

Grave of William Bligh, Lambeth, London (Geograph, Commons Media

HMS BOUNTY II (Full Sails). A 1960 reconstruction (Dan Kasberger)HMS_BOUNTY_II_Full_Sails 1960 reconsrtuction (Dan Kasberger)

Credits: First and foremost, Deb Patterson; Magpie Pickings including Hans Hillewaert, US Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center, Royal Botanic Garden Kew, myrecipefriends, M Kwek, whatsonbahamas, Wyannie Malone Historical Museum, ‘Geograph’, Dan Kasberger, and Wiki; and anyone else I have omitted…

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)