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


piping-plover-delphi-beach-Abaco-peter-mantle-11-16

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

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

Green Flag YLO, renamed Coco for short
Piping Plover 2-aug-4-long-beach-Abaco-5-birds-inc-ylo

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

piping-plover

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piping Plover "Taco", Abaco, Bahamas 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF (2): HIPPOCAMPI


Seahorse (© Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

PREHENSILE TALES FROM THE REEF (2): HIPPOCAMPI

It is a statistical fact that no one in the world – not even the meanest despot or cruellest tyrant – fails to love seahorses. It would be fair to add that in certain parts of the world, some people love them too much. In more than 65 countries. To the tune of an estimated 150 million a year that are used in the ‘traditional medicine’ trade. An attrition rate that is unsustainable in the long or even the medium term – with the bleak consequence that it won’t be long before people must look elsewhere for their source for Genital Tonic Pills. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Medicinal use – of empirically vague benefit to its enthusiasts – is joined by the aquarium trade in accounting for the removal of very large numbers of seahorses from their accustomed surroundings. At least these creatures live on (rather than being dried out alive), though research suggests that the survival rate of seahorses in captivity is low. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

Do you sometimes hanker for a plastic brooch or paperweight with a tiny seahorse embalmed inside it? It would be good to resist the temptation to buy such things in seaside shops or online. Your little specimen will be one of a million or so souvenir seahorses sold each year, alongside seashells, starfish, sponges and (protected) corals. 

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

As you contemplate your purchase, you may be reassured to find that the product is labelled ‘environmentally friendly’, ‘responsibly sourced’ or ‘from a sustainable source’. You can make up your own: ‘lovingly harvested from the bluest oceans’, maybe. In the words of the SEAHORSE TRUST: 

“Nothing could be further from the truth; there is nothing sustainable about this exploitation of the seas. You can make change by not buying them. If there was no market there would be no trade.”

Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)Seahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

USES FOR SEAHORSES: MEDICINE OR (WITH SCORPIONS) STREET FOOD  images-1 seahorses_scorpions_skewer

seahorse-adam-rees-scuba-worksSeahorse (Adam Rees / Scuba Works)

RELATED POSTS AND ONLINE RESOURCES

HIP HIP HIPPOCAMPUS!

PREHENSILE TALES 1

SEAHORSE TRUST

SEAHORSE TRUST FB GROUP

SEAHORSES: NAT GEO

                   Sustainable Seahorses

s-l225-2      s-l225-1

Credits: Adam Rees / Scuba Works for more stunning photos; Seahorse Trust for material; Wiki & open source for the random thumbnails

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5

SEABIRDS, SHOREBIRDS & WADERS: 30 WAYS TO DISTINGUISH THEM 

While putting together “The Birds of Abaco” I looked at and archived hundreds of photos of birds, many with aquatic or semi-aquatic lives. These can be broadly categorised as seabirds, shorebirds or wading birds. But with some bird breeds, there can be doubt as to which category applies (and in different parts of the world the categories themselves may be named differently). There is the strict Linnaean ordering of course, but in practice there is a degree of informal category overlap and some variation in the various bird guides. This is especially so between shorebirds and the smaller wading birds. Shorebirds may wade, and wading birds may be found on shores. Then I remembered a past blog post by the estimable BEACH CHAIR SCIENTIST that I thought deserved another outing here. Even if you have no problem distinguishing birds in the 3 categories, there are avian characteristics within each list that are interesting observations in themselves. 

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SEABIRDS 

Magnificent Frigatebird (inflated-throat) (Michael Vaughan)

(Examples include albatross, auk, booby, frigatebird, fulmar, gannet, penguin, petrel, puffin, shearwater, and tropicbirds)

1. Seabirds are pelagic, spending most of their lives far out at sea.
2. Seabirds move toward to coastal areas to breed or raise young for a minimal amount of time.
3. Seabirds are light on their undersides and dark on top (an adaptation known as countershading).
4. Seabirds have more feathers than other types of birds for more insulation and waterproofing.
5. Seabirds have flexible webbed feet to help gain traction as they take off for flight from the sea.
6. Some seabirds have unusually sharp claws used to help grasp fish under the water.
7. Some larger seabirds (e.g. albatross) have long, slim wings allowing them to soar for long distances without getting tired.
8. Some smaller seabirds have short wings for maneuvering at the surface of the water.
9. Seabirds have specialized glands to be able to drink the saltwater and excrete salts.
10. Some seabirds (e.g. gannets) have a head shape that is usually tapered for more efficiency in plunge diving.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF SHOREBIRDS 

American Oystercatcher, Delphi, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

(Examples include avocet, black skimmer, oystercatcher, plover, sandpiper, and stilt)

1. Shorebirds have long legs, pointed beaks, and long pointed wings.
2. Most shorebirds are migratory (impressively, some shorebirds fly non-stop for 3-4 days, equivalent to a human running continuous 4-minute miles for 60 hours).
3. Shorebirds wade close to the shore and poke their bills into the ground in search of food.
4. Shorebirds are small to medium size wading birds.
5. Shorebirds tend to frequent wetlands and marshes and are biological indicators of these environmentally sensitive lands.
6. Shore birds are of the order Charadriiformes.
7. Shorebirds are very well camouflaged for their environment and their appearance may vary from place to place as plumage (feather colors) are gained or lost during breeding.
8. Shorebirds typically range in size from 0.06 to 4.4 pounds.
9. Oystercatchers have a unique triangular bill that is a cross between a knife and a chisel.
10. The black skimmer is the only native bird in North America with its lower mandible larger than the upper mandible, which helps the bird gather fish as it skims the ocean surface.

10 CHARACTERISTICS OF WADING BIRDS 

Great Egret, Abaco - Tom Sheley

(Examples include crane, egret, flamingo, herons, ibis, rail, spoonbill, and stork)

1. Wading birds are found in freshwater or saltwater on every continent except Antarctica.
2. Wading birds have long, skinny legs and toes which help them keep their balance in wet areas where water currents may be present or muddy ground is unstable. Also, longer legs make it easier for them to search for food (forage) in deeper waters.
3. Wading birds have long bills with pointed or rounded tips (depending on what is more efficient for the types of food the bird consumes).
4. Wading birds have long, flexible necks that can change shape drastically in seconds, an adaptation for proficient hunting.
5. Herons have sophisticated and beautiful plumes during the breeding season, while smaller waders such as rails are much more camouflaged.
6. Wading birds may stand motionless for long periods of time waiting for prey to come within reach.
7. When moving, their steps may be slow and deliberate to not scare prey, and freeze postures are common when these birds feel threatened.
8. Adult wading birds are quiet as an essential tool for hunting. Wading birds may be vocal while nestling or while in flocks together.
9. Many wading birds form communal roosts and breeding rookeries, even mixing flocks of different species of wading birds or waterfowl.
10. Wading birds fully extend their legs to the rear when flying. The neck may be extended or not while in flight, depending on the species.

These lists were put together in useful chart form. Please check with BCS (link above) if you want to ‘borrow’ itseabird shorebird wading bird chart ©beachchairscientistImage Credits: Table – ©Beach Chair Scientist; Pics – Keith Salvesen, Michael Vaughn, Tom Sheley

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

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS


Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

HAWKSBILL TURTLES: A RARE FIND & SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

There is something unusual about this juvenile hawksbill turtle peacefully noodling round some impressive elkhorn coral with the grunts and sergeant majors. He’s a rarity. He was found at West End, Grand Bahama (just 67 miles swim from West Palm Beach Fl.), a place where hawksbills are very scarce. Loggerheads, they have. And there are plenty of hawksbills elsewhere in Grand Bahama waters. But not at the western tip. So finding this little guy and getting some good photos was a particular pleasure for Linda Cooper. And maybe the presence of a juvenile is a sign that hawksbills may begin to populate the reefs of West End, as perhaps they did historically.Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

Linda and her husband Keith run West End Ecology Tours. They have a comprehensive website HERE and a Facebook page HERE. Check it out to see how much there is to explore at West End. The birds, the corals and reef life, the starfish – and a speciality, swimming with rays. To which can now be added the chance of seeing a hawksbill turtle…Hawksbill turtle (juv), West End Grand Bahama

A DOZEN HAWKSBILL FACTS TO CHEW OVER

  • All sea turtles are classed as reptiles (something that always surprises me, somehow)
  • The top shell (carapace) consists of scales that overlap like roof shingles
  • The yellowish bottom shell is called the plastron
  • Adult hawksbills weigh around 100 pounds
  • Sea turtles sleep at night, and can stay underwater for a hours without breathing
  • Hawksbills are omnivorous, eating algae and seagrass but also sponges, urchins and small fish
  • Females lay about 100 eggs like ping-pong balls, and then at once return to the sea for good
  • The sex of baby turtles is determined by relative nest warmth – females from the top eggs
  • Baby turtles hatch almost simultaneously: all must work to dig their way out.
  • They tend to hatch at night and head straight for the sea’s phosphorescence…
  • …except that artificial lights confuse them & lead them away from the sea to likely death
  • Threats: predation, coastal development & habitat destruction, pollution, & illegal collection

SWIMMING WITH ANGELS

As I was writing this, another fact about hawksbills popped into my head. I checked through my archive – mainly Melinda Riger’s wonderful shots from elsewhere on GB – and yes, it is true. There seems to be some sort of symbiotic relationship between the turtles and angelfish. They are often found feeding together. A bit of research confirms this general observation, without giving a clear cause for it. Maybe it is simply that they eat some of the same food; and that there is plenty of it on healthy reefs so there is no cause for aggression on either side. It’s fine for a hawksbill to share with an angel.

10245Green Turtle, Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copyTurtle with Gray Angelfish ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyHawksbill Turtles, French Angelfish eat sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyHawksbill Turtle eats sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

NOTE The Hawksbill is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN red list of Threatened species as its populations have declined dramatically throughout the world and especially in the Caribbean region. It is listed in Appendix I of the Convention on the InternatIonal Trade of Endangered SpecIes (CITES) meaning that Hawksbills are near extinction or very endangered. All marine turtles are now protected under Bahamian law, as is the taking of eggs.

Credits: West End Ecology Tours / Linda & Keith Cooper (photos 1, 2, 3); Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, all other images; BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST  for their very useful fact-sheet (one of many) which I have adopted and adapted; Aquoflite for the vid.

WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

WHALE-WATCHING: THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation has just celebrated its 25th year of existence. It was formed in 1991. The omnivorous leviathan Amazonus giganticus emerged in 1994 and the invasive species Megacorpus googleii not until 1998. A full 10 years later the first garbled recordings of Sarahpalinus illogicus were made. And all the while, a watchful eye was being kept on the cetaceans of the Bahamas – researching, counting, measuring, identifying, recording, poop-scooping, analysing samples, tagging, comparing, protecting and conserving. 

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 20 (Keith Salvesen

As the years passed, so the science and technology evolved and became more sophisticated. Researching became at the same time easier, yet more complex as the organisation’s remit expanded to accommodate the vast increase in data collection now made possible by refined techniques. Here are two very recent examples – 25th anniversary projects, in fact – with thanks to Charlotte, Diane, their team and their colleagues in linked organisations.

TAGGING BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES

Last month, a tagging project started, involving suction cups being attached to the backs of BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES. The purpose of the research is to compare the foraging efficiency of the whales in Abaco waters with those of Andros, the second part of the project. I imagine this will provide valuable insights into the whale movements and behaviours in each location as well as such issues as the comparative availability of the food supply, and other factors that may affect expected foraging patterns. 

The tag is moved towards an adult male. Note the aerial (antenna?) at the back of itTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 1

Planting the tag on the whale’s backTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 2

Successful suction!Tagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 3

The tag in placeTagging a Blainville's beaked whale with a suction cup 4

The tag is tracked for 18 hours, after which it is retrieved and the recordings can then be analysed back at BMMRO HQ in Sandy Point. So far, an adult male, a young male and two adult females have been tagged. Each female had a calf, but these were not tagged.

Female beaked whale with her calfBlainville's beaked whale female and calf

AERIAL PHOTOGRAMMETRY USING A HEXACOPTER

Drone technology is rapidly expanding as new uses for them are devised. BMMRO in conjunction with NOAA have used a sophisticated HEXACOPTER to take the first  PHOTOGRAMMETRY images of Blainville’s beaked whales. These aerial photographs were taken from approximately 100ft altitude. But note: not just anyone with a $50 drone can do this: the project required flight clearance from the Bahamas Department of Civil Aviation and a permit for research on marine mammals granted by the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources.

 Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – adult male (note ‘erupted’ teeth) Blainville's beaked whale photogrammetry image - adult male (note 'erupted' teeth) BMMRO

 Blainville’s beaked whale photogrammetry image – female and calf Blainville's beaked whale photogrammetry image - female and calf BMMRO

STOP PRESS Two additional images from the latest batch Blainville's beaked whales photogrammetry image - BMMRO  Blainville's beaked whales photogrammetry image - BMMRO

Photogrammetry: the science of making measurements from photographs. Applications include satellite tracking of the relative positioning and alterations in all Earth environments (e.g. tectonic motions etc), research on the swimming of fish, of bird or insect flight, and other relative motion processes. The results are used to guide and match the results of computational models of the natural systems. They help to invalidate or confirm new theories, to design novel vehicles or new methods for predicting or/and controlling the consequences of earthquakes, tsunamis etc, or to understand the flow of fluids next to solid structures, and many other processes. (Wiki-précis)

Hexacopter (6 rotors)Hexacopter_Multicopter_DJI-S800_on-air_credit_Alexander_Glinz

Tag Team: BMMRO, University of St Andrews (Scotland), Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Hexacopter: BMMRO, NOAA

Photo Credits: top two, moi (from BMMRO research vessel); remainder except for last, BMMRO; last, Wiki

WORLD OCEANS DAY 2016: “STASH THE TRASH”


View from a Skiff, the Marls, Abaco, Bahamas

WORLD OCEANS DAY 2016: “STASH THE TRASH”

Today the NOAA and other worldwide ocean guardian organisations are celebrating World Oceans Day. Looking at the websites and FB pages, one message is clear: People Are Rubbish. To put it another way, the global pollution of the oceans is caused solely by humans. The pristine seas and beaches of the world were unsullied until, say, the last 200 years. In 4 or 5 generations, all that has changed irreversibly.

Leave only Footprints - Delphi Beach, Abaco

My rather (= very) negative intro is counterbalanced by some more positive news: there are plenty of good guys out there working hard to make a difference to the rising tide of filth polluting the oceans. Clearing seas and beaches of plastic and other debris. Collecting tons and tons of abandoned fishing gear. Rescuing creatures trapped, entangled, injured and engulfed by marine debris and pollutants. Educating adults and – far more importantly – children and young people by actively involving them in their campaigns. Conducting research programmes. Lobbying and protesting. And a lot more besides.

A marine garbage patch: the sea creatures’ view (NOAA)Marine Garbage Patch from below (NOAA)

Abandoned fishing gear: a monk seal that was lucky; and a turtle that wasn’t (NOAA)Monk Seal in discarded fishing nets (NOAA)Sea turtle trapped in abandoned fishing gear (NOAA)

Four shearwaters killed by a cone trap. A fifth was rescued (NOAA)13138799_1188762361142231_1433873125345242619_n

The NOAA and sister organisations carry out massive programmes of clearance of marine debris, with working parties of volunteers who do what they can to deal with an intractable problem.Clearing Beach Debris (NOAA) Clearing Beach Debris (NOAA)

But you don’t need to be on an official working party for a large organisation. In the Bahamas and on Abaco, the BAHAMAS PLASTIC MOVEMENT, FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT  and BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST among others, do wonderful work on a more local level.
Childen collecting beach debris, Abaco (FotE)

HOPE  FOR  THE  FUTUREYoung conservationist on Abaco, Bahamas

Elsewhere, some tackle the problems caused by particular types of trash, balloons being an excellent example. I have posted before about BALLOONS BLOW, the brainchild of two sisters who learnt of the serious consequences to wildlife caused by mass balloon releases. Their work has been so effective that increasing numbers of mass releases are being cancelled in favour of other forms of celebration. A minus for balloon-makers of course, but a big plus for wildlife. The BB sisters also keep their own beach clear of the junk brought in on every tide.

Balloons Blow - Beach Debris (http://balloonsblow.org) Balloons Blow - Beach Debris (http://balloonsblow.org)

And on an individual basis, any old fool can make a tiny difference to a local beach. Here is one such doing just that…

A tangle of balloon strings on Delphi beachBalloon Strings, Delphi Beach (RH)

Guinea Schooner Bay: little visited, rarely cleaned. Plastic crap from a 10 foot radiusRH & trash, Guinea Schooner Bay

Credits: NOAA, FOTE Abaco, BPM, Balloons Blow, RH, Mrs RH