FRIGATEBIRDS aka MAN-O-WAR BIRDS: TRULY MAGNIFICENT


Magnificent Frigatebird (m) with inflated 'gular sac' (neck pouch) - Athena Alexander / Jet Eliot

FRIGATEBIRDS aka MAN-O-WAR BIRDS: TRULY MAGNIFICENT

I have a feeling that today’s header image may be one of the best I have been fortunate enough to be able to use. Certainly in the top ten. This is a male frigatebird (Fregata magnificens) in the breeding season, with his extraordinary inflatable GULAR POUCH fully blown up. He is at his most chest-burstingly dashing, at least to female frigatebirds, and this great capture by photographer Athena Alexander from the excellent blog of JET ELIOT, shows one of the wonders of the bird world. A glimpse of his mate can be seen just behind his head, but frankly he has made the story his own! And just look at the size of his wings. If a bird can steal limelight, he has effortlessly done so.

COURTSHIP DISPLAY

The image below shows the male enacting his courtship display. Jet Eliot describes it thus: “During courtship display this balloon-like sac takes about 20 minutes to fully inflate.  It is featherless, scarlet red, and tight as a drum.  It’s so big it distorts him. When he’s ready and has a suitable audience of females flying overhead, he points his face skyward and rapidly beats his wings against the balloon, creating a low, booming sound”. The male’s pouch is not entirely inflated. A female is nestled under the his protective wing. Presumably she has been won over and mating will soon occur once the performance ends. Or maybe she’s bored with the whole routine – she looks rather as though she has seen it all before…frigatebird-displaying

magnificent-frigatebird

NESTING

Even on the nest, males are keen to be in the picture. Not for them the ‘absentee father’ role, out fishing the entire day. Instead, they share chick-care duties, looking after the single enormous, fluffy chick. An adult pair stays together for the year, forsaking all other. Chick care takes a long time from egg to fledging and beyond – so much so that frigatebirds only breed every other year, and always produce a single egg. For this reason, habitat destruction of breeding grounds has a far greater effect on population numbers than for birds that breed annually.Magnificent Frigatebird (m) and chick on nest - Athena Alexander / Jet Eliot

magnificent-frigatebird

10 MAGNIFICENT FACTS ABOUT FRIGATEBIRDS

  • Magnificent Frigatebirds are the largest of several frigatebird species around the world
  •  They are found in tropical and subtropical watersimgres
  • Females have white fronts that make them easily distinguishable in flight
  • An adult’s wingspan is 7+ feet, with the largest wing-area / bodyweight ratio of any bird
  • Frigatebirds can remain in flight and far out to sea for many days
  • They are KLEPTOPARASITES and will rob other seabirds of their food
  • Their diet is mainly fish & squid snatched from the water’s surface; also seabird chicks
  • They nest in colonies, producing a single egg every other season
  • They don’t actually land on water, as they don’t float; and they are feeble at walking on land
  • One of the earliest depictions of a frigatebird is by Eleazar Albin in 1737. He was a naturalist contemporary of MARK CATESBY and pre-dated AUDUBON

Frigatebird_Eleazar_Albin_1737

magnificent-frigatebird

NAMING THE FRIGATEBIRD: A POTTED HISTORY

  • Columbus encountered them on his first voyage in 1492, but knew them by their Spanish name rabiforçado or ‘fork-tail’.
  • The use of the name ‘frigatebird’ was first recorded in 1667 and referenced the frigate warship, a powerful sea-vessel
  • ‘Man-o-War Bird’ was the name given to the bird by English mariners in the Caribbean, being the colloquial name given by sailors to a frigate.

magnificent-frigatebird

A MAN-O-WAR GALLERY

A female frigatebird hunts for food among the mangroves on AbacoMagnificent Frigatebird.Abaco Bahamas.2.12.Tom Sheley 2

A female frigatebird soars high over Marsh HarbourMagnificent Frigatebird, Marsh Harbour, Abaco - Tom Reed

This male has taken off before his gular pouch has had time to deflate fullyFrigatebirds (m) 2 Michael Vaughn

An osprey escorts a female frigatebird from his territory to a different bit of sky…Frigatebird & Osprey Michael Vaughn

Juvenile frigatebirdFrigatebird (juv) Michael Vaughn

A fully-inflated male with a droopy one who needs to get started quick if he’s going to get a mateFrigatebirds (m) 1 Michael Vaughn

ARE FRIGATEBIRDS ANY USE TO MAN OR BEAST?

Yes, emphatically so, to man anyway. Mariners through the ages have used frigatebirds as indicators of nearby land – not necessarily visible, but within sailing distance. And fishermen through the ditto have used them as reliable indicators of where fish are to be found. As an example from personal experience on Abaco, going fishing out of Casuarina into the deep waters of the open sea, the sight of high-flying frigatebirds signals ‘get ready to fish’. They are scouting around for fish, and so are you. But they know where the fish are. Follow them and you will may be rewarded. Because where there are fish for seabird predators, there are fish for the large fish predators – mahi mahi, tuna and wahoo, for example. This is not my main type of fishing, but each time we have been out in those waters – with the Delphi Club often a still-visible speck on the horizon – the frigatebirds have led us to good catches of mahi mahi (= dorado or ‘dolphin’). Last year, under the watchful gaze of the frigatebirds, in a heart-stopping moment I jumped a wahoo. If that sounds slightly rude, it isn’t – and I didn’t catch it anyway. It just leapt vertically right out of the water without taking the goodies…

STOP PRESS Cheryl Wile Ferguson sent me a great photo of a female MF being sociable with humans in the Galapagos. She hitched a ride for 2 hours during a sea crossing…Magnificent Frigatebird (f) hitching a boat ride (Cheryl Wile Ferguson)

Audubon’s Magnificent FrigatebirdAudubon Frigatebird

Credits: first and foremost to Athena Alexander and Jet Eliot for use permission for images 1 – 3 (taken on Galapagos) and much invaluable info; as ever to Tom Sheley (4), Tom Reed (5) and Michael Vaughn (6,7,8,9) for their photos; Cartoon from Birdorable; other images open source; magpie pickings for facts and figures; and some limited personal experience (regrettably but unsurprisingly all my photos of frigatebirds flying, diving, triumphantly catching fish etc are too crap to use)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”


Brown Pelican 1 (Phil Lanoue)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”

… is a promising start to a pelican-based variant on the “Man walks into a Bar…” joke. But in fact there’s a serious point to all this, illustrated with a set of Phil Lanoue’s wonderful ‘bird sequence’ photos. The Brown Pelican is a permanent breeding resident on Abaco, not exactly common but locally quite easy to find. For example, certain docks are often used by them as diving platforms as they feed. Sandy Point is a good place for this. At Delphi we see them passing over the bay, flying high with slow, heavy wing-beats, but sadly I have yet to see one fishing off the rocks there.

Brown pelicans feed by diving for fish. By contrast, White Pelicans (a rarity on Abaco) feed in a quite different way. They forage communally and cooperatively by coralling fish and picking them off from the surface or just below it. A quick online search shows very little evidence of white pelicans diving for food or indeed just for the hell of it. But have a look now at a Brown Pelican landing and going straight into a low dive… to catch a meal.**

Brown Pelican 2 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 3 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 4 (Phil Lanoue)

I unreservedly recommend Phil’s website HERE for the consistently excellence of his photography, especially his action sequences; and for the way he captures the mood with apposite commentary.

**I completely realise that this is totally lame as the punchline for a bar-room joke

ECHINODERMS, DOLLAR DOVES & PETRIFIED BISCUITS


Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 6

Sand Dollar from Abaco containing 5 miniature white doves…

ECHINODERMS, DOLLAR DOVES & PETRIFIED BISCUITS

Echinoderms (Gr. ‘Hedgehog Skin’) comprise a large variety of sea creatures characterised (mostly) by radial symmetry, often five-way. For Abaconians, the most frequently encountered are starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars and sea biscuits. I am going to look at two particular aspects of dollars and biscuits, conscious that my illustrative photos of white objects were stupidly taken against a white background.

DOLLAR DOVES

I’m sure all Bahamians know or are aware of at least one version of the famous ‘Sand Dollar’ poem, in which the various characteristics of the test (the skeleton of the creature) are given religious significance. One verse of the poem may be puzzling: “Now break the centre open And here you will release The five white doves awaiting To spread good will and peace”.

Recently, Senior Granddaughter (10 this week) was looking at some Abaco sand dollars in her unfeasibly huge collection of shells. She picked one up, shook it and it rattled. She said a friend at school had told her that a rattling sand dollar has ‘doves’ inside it, and asked if we could break it open and see. I’ve learnt that it is useless to argue with her – she has the tenacity of a trial lawyer – so we did. This is what we found.

Sand Dollar with a spiky interior like a white cave with stalagmites and stalagtitesSand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 4

Five white doves (in fact, the separated parts of the creature’s feeding apparatus)Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 1

Two broken pieces showing where the doves are centrally locatedSand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 5

A single dove (best viewed the other way up for full-on doveliness)Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 3

The photo below, from Pinterest, shows the ‘mouth’ with its 5 dove-parts intact, an arrangement called ‘Aristotle’s Lantern’.

Sand Dollar : Aristotle's Lantern : Doves (Pinterest)

PETRIFIED BISCUITS

In common parlance ‘petrified’ is an extreme version of ‘terrified’. Literally, it means ‘turned to stone’ (L. Petrus, a rock). It is descriptive of a state of fossilisation, where an animal skeleton or dead wood or plant matter turns over aeons into stone. Undaunted by her Doves discovery, SG (a most inquisitive girl) also discovered a box containing random stones and fossils. She found these two items:

Fossilised sea biscuitsPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 1

A closer look at the pair of rocksPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 5 Petrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 4

The undersides of the fossils above – looking like stones but with some tell-tale small holesPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 2 Petrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 3

A close-up of the pale biscuitPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 6

Sea biscuits as everyone knows them, on the beach at Delphi – skeletons but not yet fossilsSea Biscuits, Delphi, Abaco (Clare Latimer) copy

A ‘modern’ sea biscuit in close-upSea Biscuit, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) copy

FUN FACT

Florida has an unofficial but proposed State Fossil, the ‘Sea Biscuit (Eocene Age)’. I didn’t know it before, but it turns out that around 40 States have State Fossils. Whatever next? State Bacteria?

SO HOW OLD MIGHT A PETRIFIED BISCUIT BE?

The fossil biscuits I have looked at, from Florida to Madagascar, are said to come from three specific historic epochs – from the oldest, Jurassic (145m – 201m years ago),  to Eocene (34m – 56m) and Pleistocene (0.01m – 2.6m). 

HOW DOES THAT HELP ANYBODY? BE MORE PRECISE

By all means. Here is an excellent Geochart that gives an idea of the time span. A Jurassic sea biscuit would be more than 145m years old. So maybe the next plan should be to take the 2 petrified sea biscuits plus SG to a museum to see if we can get an idea of their age…geotimescale

All photos ‘in-house’ except the Delphi biscuits, Clare Latimer & the single biscuit Rhonda Pearce; Geochart to be credited asap, mislaid the source…

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER


Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)

SMALL ABACO BIRDS TO MAKE THINGS BETTER

Bad day. I know about random outage outrage and so on, but really… The router died, unmourned. Bought another. Wasted 2 hours trying to make it work. Turns out to be ‘defective’, which is to say broken. Or another B word. Bought another. Almost lost the will to live. I have the briefest window in which to check emails etc before it, too, checks out of the Mac Hotel. The ONLY SOLUTION (apart from Kalik in copious quantities, sadly not available where I am right now), is to look at some pretty birds taken in the gardens round the Delphi Club. Mmmmm. Feeling better now. Deep breaths… and… relax…

Bananaquit, Abaco 1 (Keith Salvesen)La Sagra flycatcher, Abaco 1 (RH)Cuban Emerald, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco (RH)

All pics by a rather stroppy RH

STOP PRESS Exactly 24 hours after excitedly unwrapping the (second) new router, after a convoluted and Kafkaesque series of phone calls to various techie centres, headily mixed with wine, beer, tears and tantrums, I combined some of the info from each and miraculously the recalcitrant beast sprang to life. For how long, though? Router advice given: $100 ph + exes

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL BUNTING FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS


Painted Bunting.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheleyimagesimagesimagesimages

BRIGHT & BEAUTIFUL BUNTING FOR AN ABACO CHRISTMAS

BUNTING  /ˈbʌntɪŋ/  (Noun)

[Yay! A Christmas gift of a puntastic avian / festive double-meaning]
  1. A small New World songbird of the cardinal subfamily
  2. Flags and other colourful festive decorations

imagesimagesimages

PAINTED BUNTINGPainted Bunting, Abaco (Erik Gauger)
Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)Painted Bunting, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)

It’s hard to imagine a more Christmasy little bird than the Painted Bunting. Bright blue, red, green primary colours make for a spectacular small bird to grace any garden or feeder. There are other bunting species and close relations – e.g. grosbeaks – on Abaco. A common factor is the little fat beak and voracious seed greed…

                                                           painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

Feeders at the Delphi Club. The first is of a female & a male PABU feeding together (RH). The second is a male PABU with a pair of black-faced grassquits (Sandy Walker)Painted Buntings (M & F), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Painted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Sandy Walker)

                                                        painted-buntingimagespainted-bunting copy

The next two wonderful photos are by Tom Sheley, a major photographic contributor to THE BIRDS OF ABACO. They were taken in Texas, not on Abaco, but I include them because of Tom’s strong connection with the birdlife of Abaco; and because on any view they are fantastic shots…
Painted Bunting reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom SheleyPainted Bunting dip reflection LR.Laguna Seca.South TX. 4.16.13.Tom Sheley

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 7, 8), Erik Gauger (2), Tara Lavallee (3, 4), Keith Salvesen (5) Sandy Walker (6); Birdorable Cartoons

imagesimagesimagesimages

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO”


Abaco Parrot, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

“THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

A new season – the seventh – of the Delphi Club is now underway. There are fish to be caught, poolside inactivities to relish, chef-prepared meals to eat and a capacious wine cellar to be explored. To which, add birds to be spotted. Delphi has turned out to be a superb place for birding – not a feature given prominence in the original prospectus… The Club’s remoteness and its rich mix of pine forest, coppice, gardens and a pristine one-mile beach ensure the prefect protected habitat for a vast number of bird species common, uncommon and rare.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a

Eighteen months ago, “The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACOwas published. The originator of the idea – as with the entire Delphi project – was of course Peter Mantle, the publisher. The book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The book was launched at the Delphi Club in March 2014, to generous enthusiasm and support both on Abaco and beyond. 75% of the edition has been sold already. In addition, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations have been given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits is to be given to local wildlife causes. We couldn’t be more pleased with the response to this lavish book, a unique publication in the Bahamas. 

Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

The incremental growth of social media is rapid. Blogs gain readers. Facebook and Twitter pages gain new friends and followers. The start of this new Delphi season is therefore a good moment to post a reminder about the book, illustrated with a few of the wonderful bird species featured. And… ahem… there are only 57 more ‘sleeps’ until Christmas. 

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or trails of seed were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern_ACH3672 copy

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing

Smooth-billed Ani pair GT

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco

Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club (contact details below). The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What are the chances? Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

The Delphi Club at Rolling Harbour
PO Box AB-20006, Marsh Harbour, Abaco, Bahamas
Tel: +1-242-366-2222
General Manager – Max Woolnough: +1-242-577-1698
delphi.bahamas@gmail.com

Or email rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com with any queries or commentsAmerican Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Images by Tom Sheley,  Bruce Hallett, Gerlinde Taurer, Tony Hepburn, Peter Mantle, RH

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)"Birds of Abaco" flyer

“CRABACO?”: CRABBING ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Ghost Crab in surf.Delphi Club.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

“CRABACO?”: CRABBING ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

It’s been a while since I was in a crabby mood, but autumn is here and there’s a sharp nip in the early morning air… What better time to visit a selection of the many crab species found on Abaco. 

GHOST CRAB

I thought I had some good photos of these cute little guys with their ‘Carson the Downton Abbey Butler’ white gloves. However, Tom Sheley (header and below) has perfectly caught the  tide-hanging that they enjoy, sometimes disappearing completely or perhaps leaving just their twin periscopes showing.Ghost Crabin surf.Delphi Club.Abaco bahamas.Tom Sheley

HERMIT CRAB

Many people’s favourite small crab, with their endearing house-moving habits as they grow. Excellent for racing, too (see HERE). Here’s one taking its mobile home up a tree; and another tucked safely into a nerite [Capt Rick Guest amends] Magpie Shell, Cittarium pica, (used to be Livona pica), the living animal of which is the 3rd most consumed animal behind Lobster & Conch in the Caribbean. They are Littoral around Shorelines and are also used as bait.Hermit Tree Crab.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy Hermit Crab in a nerite shell, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

BLACK-BACKED LAND CRAB Black-backed land crab, Abaco 1 (Charles Skinner) Black-backed Land Crab, Abaco 2 (Charles Skinner)

Faithful guardians of my rod (there are 2 there)!Black-backed Land Crab, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

LAND CRAB Land Crab, Bahamas Palm Shores Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Land Crab, Bahamas Palm Shores Abaco 2 (Keith Salvesen)

STONE CRABStone Crab ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

ARROW CRAB Arrow Crab ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba copy

CLINGING CRAB Clinging Crab © Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaClinging Crab ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

BLUE CRAB Blue crab (Atlantic) - Leoadec Wiki

HORSESHOE CRAB (LIMULUS)Horseshoe Crab (Limulus), Delphi Beach, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

 

Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 2, 3); Keith Salvesen (4,7,8,9,15); Charlie Skinner (5,6); Melinda Riger (10,11,12,13); Leodec (14)