BAHAMA NUTHATCH: TINY, RARE, A HOP AWAY FROM ABACO…


brown-headed_nuthatch-david-hill-sc

BAHAMA NUTHATCH: TINY, RARE, A HOP AWAY FROM ABACO…

The Bahama Nuthatch (Sitta pusilla insularis) is one of the rarest birds in the Bahamas and – like the similarly rare BAHAMA ORIOLE on Andros – it is confined to one island only, Grand Bahama.  At best about 1000 – 1200 mature birds may inhabit the pine forests though current estimates vary, and that number may be optimistic. What is clear is that, for all the usual reasons (see below) the population is likely to be decreasing rather than growing.

bahamas_nuthatch-birdlife-org

Despite its  scarcity and size – this little bird is one of the smallest in the nuthatch family – the BANU is subject to much scientific debate in bird circles. Until a dozen years ago, it was simply considered to be a brown-headed nuthatch, a familiar enough bird in south-eastern USA. Then a research paper was published, which led to the bird being awarded subspecies status as the Bahama nuthatch S. p. insularis. Some argue further, that it should be considered a fully separate species and split from its cousin (as, recently, with the Bahama and Inagua woodstars in 2015). Others write as though this has already happened but as far as I can make out, it has not – though it might possibly happen once further researches have been completed and submitted (polite correction on this point welcome…).

bahama-nuthatch-owl-hole-rd-grand-bahama-bruce-purdy

WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES TO JUSTIFY SEPARATE STATUS?

Close investigation of the Grand Bahama population showed a number of significant differences between the island and the US populations. Having read and digested all the relevant research (NOT! Abstracts, maybe…), I discovered that the main distinctions are:

  • A longer, heavier bill (compare the header image of a brown-headed nuthatch in South Carolina with the second one of a Bahama nuthatch).
  • Shorter wings
  • Whiter belly
  • Distinctively different vocalisations

bahama-nuthatch-grand-bahama-robert-norton

IUCN RED LIST STATUS

Whether the BANU is a sub-species of brown-headed nuthatch or a fully separate species, the bird is incredibly rare. The population may be unsustainable without intervention (as implemented to save the Abaco parrots) – and the threat of extinction looms even as the bird begins to attract international interest. In 2016 the IUCN listed the BANU as ENDANGERED, meaning essentially that it faces extinction. ‘Critically endangered’ is the only higher category. The main reasons given for the listing were the small population, found on only one island, and likely to continue declining as a result of habitat loss & invasive species

brown-headed-nuthatch-erika-gates-bahamas-weekly-article

 WHAT ARE THE MAIN THREATS TO THE SPECIES, I MEAN SUBSPECIES?

  • Habitat loss / degradation from development, logging, forest fires & hurricanes
  • Invasive / introduced / feral species such as corn snakes, raccoons & cats
  • Competition from other bird species in a limited area

brown-headed_nuthatch-matt-tillett-md_

HOW DO THESE BIRDS BEHAVE?

A few years back, Erika Gates, well-known Grand Bahama birder and guide, wrote an excellent article in her ‘Bird Talk’ column published in the Bahamas Weekly. It includes this description:

The Bahama Nuthatch exhibits several highly unusual and endearing behaviors. It is one of the very few bird species that conducts co-operative breeding, in which young males assist with nest construction, nest sanitation as well as feeding of the female sitting on the eggs, nestlings and fledglings. It is also one of the few birds known to utilize a tool. On occasion, it uses a bark chip, held in its bill, to pry off bark portions during foraging for insects and grub.

brown-headed_nuthatch-dick-daniels-nc-wiki

SO IF I’M IN THE PINE FOREST ON G B, WHAT DO I LISTEN OUT FOR?

Sadly, there are no available recordings of a BANU. As their vocalisation is one of the factors that differentiates them from the brown-headed nuthatch, it’s clearly not very helpful to illustrate what the latter sound like. But I am going to anyway, because they can’t be that different. It’s probably just a Bahamian accent. I have read somewhere that it sounds a bit like a squeezed rubber duck toy.

Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

brown-headed_nuthatch-matt-tillett-md_5

WHY MIGHT THESE BIRDS TURN UP ON ABACO?

Well, I’m being a bit romantic and optimistic here. But let’s look at the official distribution map from Birdlife International. Not so very far for even a small bird to travel. There are even some small cays as stepping stones. And just think of the thousands of acres of pine forest on Abaco, much of it remote and completely undisturbed. Maybe… if a breeding pair could just… you catch my drift? 

bahama-nuthatch-distribution-birdlife-org

Here is another instructive map, this time from eBird. These are the only BANU sightings ever recorded, and all since 2010. These birds are tiny. There are very few of them, spread over a wide area. They live in pine trees, and are to an extent camouflaged against them. You’d be very very fortunate to find one at all, let alone get a decent photo of it… Let’s hope you can spot one while they are still around.

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ANYTHING ELSE WE SHOULD KNOW?

I have written elsewhere (in fact, HERE) about the ornithologist James Bond and his connection with Ian Fleming’s hero. The very rare first edition** of Bond’s seminal Birds of the West Indies was published in 1936. In it, he described the BANU and suggested it was a subspecies of the brown-headed nuthatch. A man way ahead of his time. 

PLEASE STOP NOW. ANY LAST WORDS?

“The species may become extinct unless Bahamians are willing to take action to save it. As the rarest bird in the Bahamas, and one of the rarest birds in the world, the nuthatch will become a high-profile symbol of conservation efforts (or their failure) in the Bahamas”. RESEARCHGATE

Photo credits: David Hill (BHNU) 1; Birdlife.org (BANU) 2; Bruce Purdy (BANU) 3; Robert Norton (BANU) 4; Erika Gates / Bahamas Weekly (BANU) 5; Matt Tillett (BHNU) 6, 8; Dick Daniels (BHNU) 7

Sound: Paul Marvin / Xeno-Canto

Research credits: Birdlife International /Birdlife.org; Birding Community E-Bulletin, Nov 2008; Research Gate; IUCN; The Bahamas Weekly / Erika Gates; eBird; American Birding Association (and a bonus point for its brown-headed nuthatch behaviour article wittily entitled “Sex in the Sitta”)

**The edition of James Bond usually described as the first edition (indeed in the book itself) was published in 1947. You might pick one up for $100 or so (try Abe.com). Don’t get one without a dust-jacket. It’s a treasure, and an affordable slice of avian history. A 1936 edition will probably be well north of $2000… 

RACCOONS ON ABACO: A MIXED BLESSING?


raccoon_procyon_lotor_2 wiki

RACCOONS ON ABACO: A MIXED BLESSING?

Abaco, like the rest of the Bahama Islands, is strangely short of native land mammals. The last of the wild ABACO BARBS – descendants of Spanish Colonial horses of high pedigree – died very recently. The proud Barbs are no more. But they, of course, were an introduced species. There are the hard-breeding, hard-hunted hogs. And feral potcakes, unowned or disowned. Many feral cats. Maybe a few rabbit escapees. And bats: several of the dozen (or so) Bahamas species are found on Abaco. At one time there was the shy nocturnal HUTIA that had the distinction of being – or having been – endemic to many of the islands. Not on Abaco, sadly – its own subspecies the Great Abaco Hutia had become extinct by the c17. You’ll have to go to the Exumas to see a hutia.

HEY! THERE ARE RACCOONS, AREN’T THERE?

This endearing-looking creature was photographed on Abaco by Charmaine AlburyRaccoon, Abaco, Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

Raccoons are a non-native species, probably introduced in the Bahamas many decades – perhaps a couple of centuries – ago. They are thought to have been brought to New Providence originally. More recently they arrived on Abaco – possibly as pets in the first place, which were then released or escaped. And they are spreading: as recently as April 2012 an excellent article in the Bahamas edition of COASTAL ANGLER MAGAZINE introduced “Eleuthera’s Newest Mammal”.

Raccoon (Cheryl Wile Ferguson)

RACOON PROS

  • Cuddly, furry, cute-looking, quite high on the well-known scientifically-based ‘ADORBS’ scale (Animals Deemed Outrageously, Ridiculously, Breathtakingly Strokeable)
  • Comfortingly familiar despite being wild animals (NB potentially aggressive)
  • Don’t have the same drawbacks as skunks
  • Have valuable fur
  • Pelts can be used for Davy Crockett hats

RA-CONS

  • Considered to be “one of the world’s most omnivorous animals”
  • Known to wreak havoc with certain crops, eg watermelons
  • Canny and adept hunters, including at night; good climbers to treetop level
  • Suspected of predation of land crabs (depriving ‘natural’ predators of the pleasure)
  • Compete with birds for fruit, berries and nectar
  • Relish birds’ eggs. Low and ground-nesting birds are particularly at risk throughout season
  • On Abaco, a major conservation program has been needed to protect the nests of the Abaco parrots in the limestone caverns of the national park from raccoons, feral cats and rodents
  • Eat small birds, curly tail lizards, anoles and suchlike
  • Can be aggressive to humans – note the handy claws clearly shown in the photo above

A shy raccoon in a tree, Treasure Cay (Becky Marvil)raccoon-abaco-becky-marvil

LIVE AND LET LIVE?

“The authors of the study Taxonomic status and conservation relevance of the raccoons of the West Indies (2003) hold that the Bahamian raccoon is an invasive species which itself poses a threat to the insular ecosystem.The Government of the Bahamas has this species listed as up for eradication on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama”.

So the official line favours eradication of a potentially harmful non-native species – failing which, presumably containment of numbers. Trapping is one way to achieve this – and there are both humane as well as cruel ways to do so. However, trapping in one place, only to release somewhere else is clearly not an option. But it would provide the opportunity to neuter / spay the animals and slow or prevent the reproductive spread of the creatures. Hunting raccoons is another method.  It’s not currently a significant sport, but neither are raccoons protected. Their fur has a value, and some say they could provide a source of somewhat gamey meat.

Or they could be just left as they are, as attractive creatures now well-established, despite the inevitable risks to native species such as the reviving population of Abaco parrots, now at sustainable numbers. On Abaco, reduced to its basics the $64k question might be: which would you prefer in the future? More raccoons or fewer parrots (or indeed, no parrots at all)?

Raccoons exhibited in the Garden of the Groves, Freeport, Grand Bahama (neutered /spayed)raccoons-nassau-bahamas-weekly

PUMPKIN

I wouldn’t wish to run the risk of influencing the delicately balanced arguments about the raccoons of the Bahamas, but will you just take a look at this? The perfect fit for the acronymic descriptor A.D.O.R.B.S!

Coastal Angler magazine, BNT / Erika Gates, Bahamas Weekly, Charmaine & Becky for the Abaco photos, plus Wiki / open source, Buzzfeed / YouTube & don’t get stuck into the rest of the cutesy viddys… Stop Press: added above the pros & cons – a great recent photo by Cheryl Wile Ferguson (nb not taken on Abaco)

At least as far as stamps are concerned, the raccoon gets equal billing with the hutia (and the bat)bahamastamp

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.