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

“TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL”: WHERE CONSERVATION BEGINS


Young conservationist on Abaco, Bahamas

“TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL”: WHERE CONSERVATION BEGINS

“Catch ’em young”. The perfect plan with children. On Abaco, wonderful work is continually being done with young children on the mainland and on each cay to teach them how precious their environment is, how fragile, and how important it is to take good care of it. The huge enthusiasm of the youngsters casts a beam of light onto the rather dark global picture of habitat destruction, pollution and ecological neglect that we have become depressingly accustomed too.

Young conservationists on Abaco

Education and training is carried out in schools; field work is done involving children of all ages; and camps are organised. FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT carries out this invaluable and rewarding task on an almost daily basis, offering students an astounding range of environment-based activities. Even the very youngest are catered for: the “Sea Beans Club”  is an after-school club for ages 3-5, which introduces young minds to their environment through educational activities and outdoor play.

Students and researchers from CWFNJ survey the beach to make sure that their activities will not disturb any plovers feeding in the areaYoung conservationists on Abaco

Students and volunteers selectively remove small invasive Casuarinas, which were encroaching on plover roosting habitat. By removing the invasive plants, native plants will be able to flourish and help stabilize the beach.Young conservationists on Abaco

The BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST, too, plays its part in educating children about the fascinating yet frail world around them. For example, Scott Johnson’s snake protection work, in which he demonstrates to small kids that Bahamas snakes are completely harmless and to be respected not feared, is a wonder to behold.

BNT’s Scott Johnson visits a school with his non-scary snakesScott Johnson - BNT - Bahamas Snakes - Children's Education

In addition there are strong partnerships with organisations many miles away from the Bahamas, of which the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJ is the prime example. Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger and the team take their remit beyond their well-known piping plover conservation work by engaging with the pupils of Abaco’s schools each year and inspiring them.

Amy Roberts Primary School CWFNJYoung conservationists on AbacoYoung conservationists on AbacoYoung conservationists on Abaco

Much of the work is done in the field, getting the children interested in birds, the shoreline, the vital ecological role of mangroves, and the problems of marine debris. Other important work can be done in the classroom.

Young conservationists on Abaco Young conservationists on Abaco(A quick shout-out to Tom Reed, who I know took the piping plover photo!)

The clear message being sent out to the schoolchildren on Abaco is this: you are never too young to learn how to appreciate, respect and look after your environment. And they are responding with intelligence and enthusiasm. We are lucky that these kids are the future.

IMG_7390

Stephanie Egger of CWFNJ writes: “This year, we’ve reached over 120 students through the Shorebird Sister School Network Program, both from the Bahamas and in the United States. We hope to foster a greater appreciation for wildlife, especially for the Piping Plover and its habitat, and inspire students to help now — and later on in their lives as adults — ensuring the recovery and survival of the bird for years to come”.

VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION

“Teach your Children” is the second track of Déja Vu, the 1970 CSNY album. Nash wrote it much earlier, when still with the Hollies, then stored it in his musical lumber room. Just as well: it fits perfectly with the rather fey hippy vibe of the rest of Déja Vu.

Young conservationist on Abaco

Credits: huge thanks for general use permission for material to FotE, BNT and CWFNJ; and to all the individual photographers concerned

BAHAMAS REEF CORAL: A COLOURFUL GALLERY


Orange Cup Coral ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

BAHAMAS REEF CORAL:  A COLOURFUL GALLERY

The reefs of the northern Bahamas, as elsewhere in the world, are affected by two significant factors: climate change and pollution. Stepping carefully over the sharp pointy rocks of controversy, I’ve avoided the term ‘global warming’ and any associated implication that humans (oh, and methane from cows) are largely to blame for the first factor; but on any view, ocean pollution is the responsibility of mankind (and not even the cows). 

That said, an exploration of the reefs of Abaco or Grand Bahama will reveal not just the astounding variety of mobile marine life but also the plentiful and colourful static marine life – for example the beautiful and Christmassy orange cup coral in the header image. Here are some more corals from the reefs, with a mix of sponges added in. 

Giant Star Coral & Rope Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copyCorals ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2Corals ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copySea Fans & other corals ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama Scuba copy

This rather intriguing photo shows a hermit crab’s conch home that presumably the occupant grew out of and left behind in the delicate coral branches as it went search of a more spacious shell dwelling.Coral & conch ex crab home 1380179_645156602172399_300806994_n copy

Credits: All these wonderful photos are by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba; tendentious reef health observations are mine own…