ONE GOOD INTERN DESERVES ANOTHER (Part 1)


Coral reef research, Australia (Oscar Ward)

ONE GOOD INTERN DESERVES ANOTHER (Part 1)

Four years ago a young English friend of ours, Oscar Ward, was lucky enough to be offered an internship with the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO). At the time, he was post-school, and waiting to start a degree course in marine biology at university. He had no practical experience at all, so he had to progress from the menial tasks (scraping barnacles off the bottom of the research boat) to the more adventurous (whale poop-scooping) to the scholarly (collection and analysis of samples and data, including audio file matching of whale calls for identification). The need for hard work, concentration and accuracy were made clear from the outset… and as you will see, Oscar’s short internship has stood him in very good stead during his university course.

Oscar weekending at Gilpin Point – self-sufficientBMMRO Internship - weekend off (Oscar Ward)

From a promising start on Abaco, and with 2 year’s study behind him, Oscar is currently spending the 3rd year of his 4-year course in Australia, working with The Australian Institute of Marine Science. He has been involved in a number of complex projects focussed on corals and reef life – as we all know, a matter of huge concern – and the projections for the future of the reef systems in a time of warming seas and raised acid levels. Oscar also assists PhD students, for example examining the damaging effects of parasitic worms on coral; and the effect of changing light conditions on corals.

Nurse Sharks, Great Barrier Reef (Oscar Ward)

Much of Oscar’s time has been spent doing fieldwork. Often he is at sea, monitoring and collecting samples in the Southern Great Barrier Reef, diving two or three times a day. This work is often carried out in restricted or preservation zones, and with ever-present manta rays, sharks and sea turtles around him.

Manta Ray, Great Barrier Reef (Oscar Ward)

Right now Oscar is involved with the investigations into the recent bleaching events, work that is at the forefront of serious concern for the GBR and far beyond. I have recently corresponded with him – he has definitely not forgotten that his grounding for the fieldwork and studies that he is engaged in – and very likely his career – came from his time on Abaco and the lessons he learned during his time with the BMMRO at Sandy Point.  (In part 2: another good intern, currently at Sandy Point)

Coral reef research, Australia (Oscar Ward)

All photos: Oscar Ward (the header image is taken from a research vessel – no idea how, maybe a drone with fish-eye lens?)

‘EAGLE EYES’: NEW BALD EAGLE SIGHTING(S) ON ABACO


Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

‘EAGLE EYES’: NEW BALD EAGLE SIGHTING(S) ON ABACO

In March, I posted about a bald eagle spotted by a Delphi fisherman out on the Marls near Big Pine Point. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was a very rare sighting of this magnificent raptor. The bird is classified for Abaco as a V4, which is to say an extremely unusual vagrant (but not quite a ‘one-off’ V5). 

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

You can read all the details HERE, but to summarise, the only previous Abaco sightings were 3 years running over 2000 – 2002, at the end of each year. The annual visits over such a short time-span suggest that this may have been the same bird each time. So this March’s report is possibly the second bald eagle ever seen on Abaco… and on any view, the fourth.

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

Now comes the news of another bald eagle sighting in the last couple of days on the Marls, this time by Danny Sawyer while out fishing. The bird was sighted approx 1.5 miles west of the airport / 2 miles south of Bustic Point. Danny’s FB post has unsurprisingly attracted quite a number of comments – and even some more sighting reports. Here’s the list so far…

BALD EAGLE SIGHTINGS REPORTED ON ABACO SINCE c1950 (= ‘ever’)

  • 2000 December, location unknown – info from Woody Bracey
  • 2001  December – Chicken Farm area – Betsy Bracey
  • 2002 December – over Marls opposite Treasure Cay – Woody Bracey
  • 2014  Date unknown – circling the power plant – LC
  • 2017  March – Big Pine Point, Marls – James Cheesewright
  • 2017  Early May – Power plant area – LC
  • 2017  May – Marls – Danny Sawyer
  • 2017  May  – Lubbers / Tahiti Beach area – ‘Kelly’s mom’

Italics indicate a report in comments on Danny’s FB page

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

So far, however, there has been no photograph of an ‘Abaco’ bald eagle. It’s fair to say that the official verification of a sighting generally requires a photograph – more especially where there is a risk of confusion with a native bird (eg some warblers). But there really is no mistaking a bald eagle. For obvious reasons it is surely one of the most recognisable raptors of all. And the only Abaco candidates for confusion would be a turkey vulture or an osprey. A quick look shows very little scope for confusion with either:

Bald eagle in flight. Note: dark brown, head & tail bright white, huge yellow beak and feet Bald Eagle In Flight By Carole Robertson (Wiki)

Turkey vulture & Osprey for comparison. No comparison, in fact

Turkey Vulture, Abaco - Bruce Hallett  

 ABACO BALD EAGLE CHALLENGE

How about being the first person to capture an Abaco bald eagle on film digital media? The kudos! The traditional Rolling Harbour bottle of Kalik is already on ice in the expectation of a usable image, together with the accurate location… Failing that, all reports welcome anyway.

Bald Eagle - Poquoson, Virginia - Brian Lockwood

Credits: all brilliant eagle photos by very kind permission of Brian Lockwood, taken in his backyard in Poquoson, Va. except eagle in flight, Carol Robertson (wiki); TUVU (Bruce Hallett); Osprey (Craig Nash); Amusing Cartoon, Birdorable

LIZARDS OF ABACO: ANOLES (AND DEWLAPS)


Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)

LIZARDS OF ABACO: ANOLES (AND DEWLAPS)

Everyone knows about CURLY TAIL LIZARDS. Everyone loves them and their little ways. The other lizards that may be found on Abaco – the anoles, green and brown – are easier to take for granted. Unless, maybe, you see one displaying its DEWLAP. These are essentially folds of neck skin that are seen in many creatures – even large ones like the moose – and which in some species are inflatable / retractable. 

Abaconian Rhonda Pearce has taken some excellent photos of anoles recently. By oversight I have never given anoles a day in the sun in this blog before, and it’s high time I did (see above re overlooking anoles in favour of curly tails…). First, here are some impressive dewlaps to admire.

Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce) Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)

And here are a few green and brown anoles hanging out on trees and leaves in an anole-type way. In a couple of these images, you can see the dewlap in its non-display mode. They are all just… lizards. Non-scary, non-venomous, non-poisonous little guys that are probably a peripheral part of everyone’s experience, but which really deserve a closer look. 

Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce) Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce) Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce) Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce) Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce) Anoles of Abaco, Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)

You can read more about anoles, including their sex lives, on the excellent Abaco Scientist’s site HERE

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

The first time I heard the word ‘dewlap’ (misheard by the young me as ‘dewlat’) was in the mid-60s, in Georgie Fame’s excellent Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde. This song – and doubtless the film – was number 1 in the UK and maybe also the States. Famous too for such fine songs as ‘Yeh Yeh!’ and ‘Sitting in the Park’, Fame’s ‘Ballad’ is probably his best-loved song.

I assumed then that a ‘dewlat’ was some sort of valuable gold coin  – like a gold sovereign – that bank robbers put into a specially designed ‘dewlat bag’ to carry them away… Ah! The naivety of youth.

Bonnie and Clyde advanced their reputation

And made the graduation into the banking business

“Reach for the sky,” sweet-talking Clyde would holler

As Bonnie loaded dollars in the dewlap bag

Credits: all photos, Rhonda Pearce with thanks as ever; icecreammakesuhappy, youtube

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO


Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WATCHFUL TYRANT: A LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD ON ABACO

The Delphi Club on Abaco has a number of permanent residents (or by now – let’s be realistic – maybe their descendants). There’s the huge curly tail lizard that lives under the large stones by the outside staircase. There are the West Indian Woodpeckers that noisily nest in a box under the eaves of the verandah and produce 2 batches of shouty chicks each summer. And there is the silent sentinel – a loggerhead kingbird that spends much of its time in the trees and bushes at the far side of the pool.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

It’s a good place to chose. The bird uses the tree branches and shrubs to ‘hawk’ for passing insects, suddenly leaving its perch to pounce, before returning to just the same place to eat its snack – classic flycatcher behaviour. I call it the ‘watchful tyrant’ because the kingbird is nearly always there. Somewhere. If you look carefully and wait patiently. He stays in the shade, so he’s not bright with sunlight (or P/shop) in these photos. This is just the way he is.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Kingbirds are of the family Tyrannidae and the genus Tyrannus. The ‘tyrant’ group includes a number of flycatcher species commonly found on Abaco: the KINGBIRDS (loggerhead and gray), the CUBAN PEWEE and the LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER being the most familiar. Note the hook at the end of the beak; and the yellowish tinge to the undertail area.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

With the exception of the gray kingbird, the flycatchers named above are very common permanent breeders on Abaco. There’s probably one of them within 20 feet of your house right now. The gray, however, is a summer breeding resident. This is most helpful of it: if you see a kingbird between October and April, it will be a loggerhead. This gives you a 6-month window for near-certain ID.

Loggerhead Kingbird, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

IT’S SUMMER – SO HOW DO I TELL A LOGGERHEAD FROM A GRAY?

EASY. CLICK HERE

All photos: Keith Salvesen; Cartoon by the legendary Birdorable

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…

‘CUDAS: “WHAT BIG TEETH YOU’VE GOT…”


Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

‘CUDAS: “WHAT BIG TEETH YOU’VE GOT…”

Or, if not exactly big then lethally lacerating. Their sharp fangs are all different sizes, which gives more of a mincing effect than a clean bite. Then there’s the underbite, involving more mincing. And the fact that the teeth are set at different angles. That’s a third mincing effect. Prey in those strong jaws? No chance. 

Three -way mincing machine. Avoid.Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Teeth? Enough dentition already. It’s impossible not to admire these lean, mean eating machines as they glide around in their natural environment. The photos below are designed to redress the balance a bit. Sinister, yes. But mighty fine fish, without a doubt.

Barracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama ScubaBarracuda - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as ever for her terrific photos

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS & BAHAMA DUCKLINGS


White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

WHITE-CHEEKED PINTAILS & BAHAMA DUCKLINGS

The white-cheeked (‘Bahama’) pintail is everyone’s favourite dabbling duck. You can see them in large numbers at Gilpin Pond, and in slightly lesser numbers in the pond on Treasure Cay golf course. You may come across the occasional pair or singleton way out on the Marls. Wherever they may be, spring means duck ahem… erm… sex. And that means… gorgeous ducklings. Like the ones below. You can see more Abaco pintails HERE but this post showcases the delightful progeny of mama duck (not forgetting papa duck’s role, of course). 

White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Charles Skinner)

This means ‘get any closer to my darling ducky at your peril, back away now, you’ve been warned’.White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

A proud pair of parents. No, I can’t tell which is which – males and females are very similar. My guess is that the female is nearest.White-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

Credits: all absolutely adorbs Anas bahamensis photos are by Tom Sheley & Charles SkinnerWhite-Cheeked Pintail Ducks & Bahama Ducklings on Abaco (Tom Sheley)

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