MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK


MARK CATESBY, PIONEER NATURALIST: NEW BOOK

Exactly two years ago, I wrote about the publication of a lavish limited edition facsimile of Mark Catesby’s renowned work The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands in 4 volumes to mark the 300th anniversary of Catesby’s arrival in the New World. Unsurprisingly, the cost of the set was prodigious (a rather nice car) – but only a fraction of the cost of a vanishingly rare original set (a rather nice house). Reader, I didn’t buy one.

Now the CATESBY MEMORIAL TRUST has produced an excellent and inexpensive illustrated introduction to Catesby’s great work that will transport you back through the centuries to the earliest days of natural historical research by Europeans abroad. It’s worth remembering that Catesby antedated the more famous John James Audubon (1785-1851) by a whole century.

Catesby’s signature

The new book has over 40 illustrations from Catesby’s The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands. These are paired with relevant extracts from the work, and there is additional commentary. Click on Catesby’s Tropicbird below for a sample of the book.

Click me for book sample!

To buy the book – it’s $25 – click HERE

Mark Catesby - 'Bahama Titmous' (Bananaquit)

Mark Catesby – ‘Bahama Titmous’ (Bananaquit)

MARK CATESBY? JUST REMIND ME…

Mark Catesby (1683 – 1749) was a pioneering English naturalist and artist who published his magnum opus based on a number of expeditions he undertook from 1712 onwards. His was the first ever published account of the flora and fauna of North America, and the 2 volumes (with a supplement) included some 220 colour plates of the creatures and plants of land and sea that he had come across. After his travels, Catesby spent some 20 years producing his masterwork and died soon after, perhaps from the sheer effort of it all.

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree (HM QE2)

Red-legged Thrush in Gumbo Limbo Tree

AND HIS RELEVANCE TO THE BAHAMAS IS…?

On behalf of the Royal Society Catesby undertook expeditions, first to Carolina and then more widely in America and eventually in the Bahamas. On these trips he drew and painted detailed pictures of birds, fish, turtles, flowers and corals, many of which are familiar in the Bahamas to this day – and a few of which are included here.

Mark Catesby - Angelfish

Mark Catesby – Angelfish

Flamingo Head + Gorgonian Coral (HM QE2)

Flamingo Head & Gorgonian Coral

Mark Catesby - plate 139 Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby – Hawksbill Turtle

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

Mark Catesby (Black-faced Grassquit)

RELATED POSTS

CHARLES CORY & ABACO 1891

THE PIONEERS (Wilson, Audubon, et al)  

MR SWAINSON (on his 224th Birthday)

Bahama Finch (Western Spindalis)

RELATED BOOK

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Information about the Catesby Commemorative Trust and the book The Curious Mister Catesby can be found HERE. I have the book: it is wonderful, but as an amateur I find it quite a difficult read, and I have to take it in small chunks.

For anyone tempted to look further into the importance of this ground-breaking naturalist, the CCT produced a 50 minute film that is well worth watching if you are interested to know more.

Credits: HM QE2, Catesby Commemorative Trust, National Geographic, Mariners’ Museum Library, sundry open source info-&-pic-mines inc. Wiki, Addison Publs, 

“Illuminating natural history is so particularly essential to the perfect understanding of it”   (Mark Catesby)

ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY


Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY

Recently I was contacted by someone who had found an unusual orchid on Abaco and wanted to find out more about it, starting with ID. Lucy, an English botanist who has been visiting Abaco with her husband for many years, discovered a strange wild orchid species that did not appear in any of her books. So she turned to Detective Harbour who, unknown to her, is mostly paralysed with hopelessness when it comes to plant ID (except hibiscus, obvs). But he can sometimes find the people who know these things…

Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

Lucy’s photos showed a striking, tall-stemmed plant growing from an exposed round root. She found 3 plants in Cherokee near Watching Bay; and another growing randomly beside the road at the airport – ‘bizarrely’, as she points out. She (and I) assumed the orchid to be a native species, and hopefully a rare one. I couldn’t track it down online so I got the views of Mark Bennet at the Leon Levy Preserve, and the BNT plant expert Ethan Freid. Both agreed that the orchid is Eulophia graminea

Orchid Eulophia graminea root, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

Disappointingly, this orchid species turns out not to be a rare native one at all – which explains the problem of searching for it in books and online as a Bahamas species. It is in fact a non-native invasive plant from south east Asia. It has apparently been spreading through the Bahamas over the last 10 years or so, having originally been introduced into the region in south Florida. So, while of interest, the orchid does not really ‘belong’ – unlike Encyclia Inaguensis which Laine Snow has helpfully identified as the most similar Bahamian orchid.
Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Lucy Davies)

This raises the ‘Brown-headed Cowbird Conundrum‘. The plant is here on Abaco. By rights it has no business to be. It has probably arrived from Florida, where it has no business to be either. So the big question is, does its presence impact on native flora species in any adverse way?

  • Is it a benign addition to the plant species of the Bahamas, that in 100 years time will be fondly viewed as a native and appearing in books / online as local.
  • Or is it an unwelcome intruder, quick to spread and slow to eradicate, aggressively gaining an increasing hold on the precious soil and water resources on Abaco and exterminating the native orchid species in the process (cf in the UK Himalayan Balsam / Giant Hogweed / Japanese Knotweed).
  • Or somewhere in-between – not exactly welcome and trouble free, but something the local flora can get along with, without unacceptable levels of damage to the local species. Just about tolerable.
 
Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Bob Peterson Wiki)
SO, WHICH OF THE THREE IS IT?

Well, I’m afraid Eulophia graminea is in category 2 – the real brown-headed cowbird category. It was first discovered in Miami in 2007. The bulbs from which the plants grow are hard to dig up. They are covered in little roots, each one of which has the potential to become a new plant. Already it has spread rapidly in Florida, and has now been found growing in most types of plant habitat, from maritime to rockland. In other words, it is not at all good news.

OH NO! WHAT’S TO BE DONE?
Well, first I would not advise unilateral action… I take a tough line, though, on potentially damaging non-natives – namely, remove them before they spread uncontrollably and ineradicably. In this case I’d suggest that if you see this plant, note and mark the location and report it to the BNT and ask their advice. They will no doubt have a general policy on invasives, or make one on a case-to-case basis.
 Orchid Eulophia graminea, Abaco, Bahamas (Scott Zona Wiki)
FUN (?) FACT

The word ‘orchid’ comes from the Latin Orchis or orchideæ, and Greek ὄρχις (orkhis). This means a testicle, and is based on the shape of the root. In medieval England, orchids were called ballockwort. To this day the surgical procedure known as an orchidectomy refers to the removal of one or both testicles. Moving swiftly on…

Credits: Lucy and Mark Davies (1 – 4); Bob Peterson Wiki (5); Scott Zona Wiki (6); Mark Bennet, Ethan Fried & Laine Snow for ID; University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences,  Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Plant Directory for research; Online Etymology Dictionary for Orchid definition…

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME


Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

THE ‘ABACO’ PARROTS OF NASSAU: FEEDING TIME

New Providence, Bahamas – specifically in Nassau itself – now has a small population (c.15) of Cuban parrots. Their origin is debated, since the only known Bahamas breeding populations of these birds are on Abaco (underground nesting in limestone caves) and Inagua (conventional nesting).  There’s more on the (probable) provenance of the New Providence birds HERE and HERE.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa MauraAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

Whatever the location, the nesting arrangements or the precise origin, one fact is certain: these beautiful birds are prodigious eaters of fruit. Here are a couple of the Nassau parrots tucking in with relish on a sunny day. Soon they will fly off to other fruit trees nearby, emitting their loud excited squawks, to continue their day of feeding…

Note the wide businesslike spread of the clawsAbaco (Cuban) Parrots in Nassau - Melissa Maura

All photos: Melissa Maura, with thanks as always – and for a great new parrot header image…

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (9): GULF FRITILLARIES


Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (9): GULF FRITILLARIES

It’s been a while since any papilionidae made an appearance on these pages – and much longer since a Gulf fritillary  Agraulis vanillae flew in. These very pretty butterflies are far from rare, but like the ATALA hairstreak, they are always a pleasure to see. Here are a few to enjoy.

Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)5Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)2Gulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)1Gulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)10386393_10152656788408720_3995568288186763659_nGulf Fritillary, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

Credits: Charles Skinner (1, 2, 6, 8), Rhonda Pearce (7), Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 5)

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO


Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 5

CUBAN PEWEES AT THE NEEM FARM, ABACO

The Abaco Neem Farm just off the highway about 20 minutes south of The (one and only) Roundabout is about much more than the neem plants and the resultant products sold at the well-known shop in Marsh Harbour. The many varieties of fruit tree, the grasses and the wild flowers, the coppice, the pine forest, the open land and the pond that make up the extensive property provide a wonderful haven for birds, butterflies, moths and bees (there are hives too). It’s a great place for birding, and the owner Nick is rightly proud of the peaceful ambience of the farm. On a bright day, the place is alive with birdsong. 

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 6

Among my favourite small birds found there are two species that are so tame and inquisitive that it is often possible to move slowly right up to them. The blue-gray gnatcatcher is one. The cuban pewee is another. This pewee was flitting about the edge of the coppice, hawking for insects and quite unconcerned by our presence. Sadly I only had ‘hated camera’ with me, having thrown ‘beloved camera’ into the sea a couple of days before, photographing shorebirds (and thence into the trash bin). So I’m not wholly pleased with the results, either for clarity or for colour. Needless to say, hated camera always has the last laugh…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 2

Identification of the various flycatcher species e.g. CUBAN PEWEE, LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER, LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD and GRAY KINGBIRD can be tricky. The simplest way to distinguish the cuban pewee is to remember that it is a small bird (so, not a kingbird); and that its informal name is ‘crescent-eyed pewee’ due to the very noticeable white crescent behind the eye. And as Liann Key Kaighin reminds me in a comment, these little birds also answer to the name Tom Fool…

Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen)Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 3

A quick check of the sky for predators? Or maybe just for rain…Cuban Pewee, Abbaco Neem Farm (Keith Salvesen) 8

All photos: RH. Thanks to Nick Maoulis for his tolerance of people armed with cameras and binoculars.

PS I don’t go in much for beauty products (far far too late), but the Neem Salve is fantastic for minor injuries: cuts, grazes, bruises, small burns and so on. Well, it works for me.

BELLA MOTHS: COLOURFUL, POISONOUS & PROMISCUOUS


Day-flying_Bella_Moth_(Utetheisa_ornatrix) on Rattlebox Blossom (Bob Peterson, Florida)

BELLA MOTHS: COLOURFUL, POISONOUS & PROMISCUOUS

Today’s offering is a creature I have never seen before on Abaco, or anywhere else for that matter. We saw it at the Neem Farm when we were looking for birds, butterflies and Spring flowers. I didn’t have moths in mind at all until I saw this one. For a start, moths are considered creatures of the night, so midday would not be an auspicious time for moth-hunting. As it turns out, the moth we found is, most unusually, active in day-time (‘diurnal’). 

Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 1

The BELLA MOTH Utetheisa ornatrix is also known as the ‘ornate moth’ or ‘rattlebox moth’ (after its favourite plant Crotalaria  – me neither). The one we saw was pink, with bright pink showing on the wings in flight. However these moths come in other vivid colours ranging from pink to red or orange, and yellow to white. Their black wing markings have many patterns.

Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2

The bright coloration is, as in many species, nature’s way of saying ‘leave me alone’ and in particular, ‘I am very unpleasant to eat’. It is called APOSEMATISM.  Quite simply, the larvae feed on plants that contain poisonous alkaloids – in particular the yellow rattlebox plant Crotalaria, rendering them, as adult moths, extremely unpalatable. Bella adults may cannibalise eggs, pupae or larvae to counter alkaloid deficiency. Bella Moth, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4

BELLA MOTH SEX LIVES: “IT’S COMPLICATED”

  • Sexual encounters are dictated by females, who compete with other females for males
  • Females seeking to mate always outnumber available males
  • A female bella will release powerful pheromones at dusk to lure males
  • Related females uniquely engage in collective pheromone release
  • This is termed “female pheromonal chorusing”
  • Several males will give the female chemical ‘nuptial gifts’ of poison and sperm
  • The female chooses the best of her suitors, and copulates with 4 or 5 of them
  • The whole process of copulation may take up to 12 hours…
  • In some way I don’t understand, she is then able to select her preferred sperm
  • Humans: do not try any of this at home, in the office, in Maccy Ds or when driving

Ornate_moth_(Utetheisa_ornatrix) Charles J Sharp wiki

Utetheisa_ornatrix (Dumi, Jamaica)

Credits: Header (on rattlebox blossom Crotalaria), Bob Peterson; 3 frankly rather feeble photos RH & Mrs RH; sharp photo by Charles J Sharp; open wings by Dumi

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk