BANANAQUITS: AHEAD OF THE CURVE?


Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco)

BANANAQUITS: AHEAD OF THE CURVE?

Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are small, colourful, and delightful birds of the coppice and garden. Besides their obvious attractiveness, the birds have in recent years enjoyed an uniquity: the status of being the sole species in the family Coerebidae.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

However this singular status has really been a kind of avian parking place due to past, present (and doubtless future) uncertainty of the right category for these birds. Like so many avian species these days, they are subject to the rigours and vagaries of continual reclassification by the ornithological powers-that-be.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

Bananaquits are, broadly speaking, passerines – essentially birds that perch. The nominal ‘passer’ was specifically awarded to sparrows by BRISSON, a contemporary of Linnaeus. Recently, bananaquits have suffered mysterious migrations of their classification ranging from the generalised ‘passerine‘ to the vague incertae sedis (=uncertain group‘) to uncomfortable inclusion with tanagers / emberizids. 

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

The debate over the appropriate classification for this pretty little bird (of which there are many subspecies in the broad Caribbean region) – rumbles on. A new way to confuse the issue is the suggestion that the bananaquit should be split into 3 species. In some areas, I believe this has happened at least informally.

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

Elsewhere there are doubters, sceptics, and champions of other group inclusions. The most obvious beneficiaries of all this will be dedicated birders, who may end up with two extra species to add to their ‘Lifer’ lists. Personally I’d like to think that the birds themselves will stay ahead of the curve in their own category, maintaining the mystery of their precise status while humans argue about what to call them. 

Bananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

CREDITS: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1); Gerlinde Taurer (2); Craig Nash (3, 7); Tom Sheley (4, 5); Erik Gauger (6). All birds photographed on Abaco, Bahamas

Bananaquit perched on yellow elder, the National flower of the BahamasBananaquit, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

 

OCTOPUS’S GARDEN (TAKE 9) IN THE BAHAMAS


Octopus (Melinda Riger - Grand Bahama Scuba)

OCTOPUS’S GARDEN (TAKE 9) IN THE BAHAMAS

We are back again under the sea, warm below the storm, with an eight-limbed companion in its little hideaway beneath the waves.

Octopus (Melinda Riger - Grand Bahama Scuba)

It’s impossible to imagine anyone failing to engage with these extraordinary, intelligent creatures as they move around the reef. Except for octopodophobes, I suppose. I’ve written about octopuses quite a lot, yet each time I get to look at a new batch of images, I feel strangely elated that such a intricate, complex animal can exist. 

Octopus (Melinda Riger - Grand Bahama Scuba)

While examining the photo above, I took a closer look bottom left at the small dark shape. Yes my friends, it is (as you feared) a squished-looking seahorse, 

Octopus (Melinda Riger - Grand Bahama Scuba)

The kind of image a Scottish bagpiper should avoid seeingOctopus (Melinda Riger - Grand Bahama Scuba)

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

With octopus posts I sometimes (rather cornily, I know) feature the Beatles’ great tribute to the species, as voiced with a delicacy that only Ringo was capable of. There’s some fun to be had from the multi-bonus-track retreads currently so popular. These ‘extra features’ include alternative mixes, live versions and – most egregious of all except for the most committed – ‘Takes’. These are the musical equivalent of a Picasso drawing that he botched or spilt his wine over and chucked in the bin, from which his agent faithfully rescued it (it’s now in MOMA…)

You might enjoy OG Take 9, though, for the chit chat and Ringo’s endearingly off-key moments.

All fabulous photos by Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba taken a few days ago

Octopus (Melinda Riger - Grand Bahama Scuba)

 

‘EGYPTIAN MUMMY’ (aka MOTHER GOOSE) & HER BROOD


Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

‘EGYPTIAN MUMMY’ (aka MOTHER GOOSE) & HER BROOD

This post has little to do with Abaco, and only a tenuous connection with the Bahamas. It is about birds, though, so I’ll justify it that way. This is today’s news and these are photos I took this morning in a park that is less than 10 minutes walk from our house. The reason? I’d heard that goslings had been seen at the small lake there, remarkably early in the year for any bird.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca Gosling (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

I had expected that this rumour related to the Canada geese that lord it over the smaller waterfowl (moorhens, coots, mallards, tufted ducks and so on). What I saw, as I got close to the lake, was a pair of Egyptian geese Alopochen aegyptiaca. And, true to the report, they had goslings with them. There were 10 in all and they were jointly and severally (as we lawyers say) totally adorbs and charmsy.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

These are birds of Africa, but – like Canada geese – have spread far and wide mainly as the result of introduction by man. The Egyptians considered them sacred and featured them in hieroglyphs. Modern man has deemed them ornamental (cf peafowl) and removed them from their home to pastures new. Geese are robust, so they adapted in their new environment with relative ease. 

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

As with many other transferred species, birds inevitably escaped from their ‘owners’ and feral populations soon became established. In Abaco terms, this is exactly what happened with the peafowl that were brought to the ‘Different of Abaco’ fishing lodge. The birds survived its demise, lived and bred in the increasingly wild grounds, and are now many generations on.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

At some stage, the Egyptian goose was introduced in Florida, where it thrived. Nowadays it is not a particularly unusual bird there.  It remains one of the birds of south-east US that has never made the relatively short journey to Abaco. There are however a handful of reports from Grand Bahama, New Providence and Eleuthera, so northern Bahamas is in range.

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

It’s probably only a matter of time before these geese turn up on Abaco. Five years ago, the first BLACK-BELLIED WHISTLING DUCKS were found, a flock of 6 seen several times as they progressed from Crossing Rocks north to the airport. There are still the occasional sightings of these ducks, the last about 2 weeks ago north of Marsh Harbour. The Egyptian goose is a fine bird and part of me (the part that doesn’t disapprove of avian introductions) hopes that they do occasionally undertake the journey from the flocks in Florida. 

Egyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco

That’s all, folksEgyptian Goose Alopochen aegyptiaca (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

YELLOWTAIL PARROTFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (54)


Yellowtail (Redfin) Parrotfish (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

YELLOWTAIL (REDFIN) PARROTFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (54)

The yellowtail parrotfish (sometimes known as a redfin) is one of around half-a-dozen kinds of parrotfish found among the coral reefs of the Bahamas, and sometimes in seagrass areas. There are many other related species worldwide (about 80). Parrotfish are among the most important fishes on the reef because they play a major role in BIOEROSION , a vital process for the health of the reef.

Yellowtail (Redfin) Parrotfish (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

A. FEEDING & BEACH BUILDING

  • Their dental arrangements – a mouthful of meshing teeth – form the characteristic ‘beak’
  • Primarily herbivores but also snack on small creatures, organisms, or even molluscs
  • As they feed on their favourite algae, their teeth grind up the coral which they ingest
  • They digest the coral & excrete it as sand, becoming a component of your favourite beach
  • The teeth grow continuously, replacing ones worn away by grinding coral as they graze
  • They are a vital species in preventing algae from choking coral: essential reef cleaners

Yellowtail (Redfin) Parrotfish (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

B. PARROTFISH: PERSONAL INFORMATION

  • Some secrete a protective mucous cocoon to sleep in or as concealment from predators
  • Mucous also helps to heal damage, repel parasites, & protect them from UV light
  • As they develop from the juvenile stage, most species change colour significantly
  • In some species, juveniles change colour temporarily for protective purposes
  • These are “sequential hermaphrodites”, turning from female to male (‘protogyny’)
  • Single males tend to have several lady friends, and aggressively defend their love rights
  • Parrotfish are PELAGIC SPAWNERS. Females release many tiny buoyant eggs into the water
  • The eggs float freely then eventually sink to the coral until they hatch
  • Unlike almost all other fishes, they use their pectoral fins to propel themselves
  • Feeding behaviour / dietary requirements make them (thankfully) unsuitable for aquariums (or aquaria, if you prefer)

Yellowtail (Redfin) Parrotfish (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

WHAT WAS THAT ABOUT CHANGING SEX?

  • Parrotfish may undergo sex reversal in which developing female fish become males
  • Parrotfish born male remain male throughout their lives (“primary males”)
  • Female-born fish may change sex & colour to become male (“secondary males”)
  • Secondary males are fertile and generally mate with a single female
  • Females that stay female live in harems protected by a dominant “supermale” BUT…
  • …if the supermale dies, the largest female in the group changes sex to become male…
  • …AND amazingly adopts the coloration of the supermale (best ‘astounding fact’ of all)

Yellowtail (Redfin) Parrotfish (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

ARE PARROTFISH EDIBLE? JUST ASKING…

  • Parrotfish skin is very tough but their flesh is soft and degenerates quickly
  • Some species (eg blue parrotfish) carry ciguatera toxins – to be avoided
  • They are not considered a fishing target in Bahamas, nor a food-fish
  • Parrotfish are eaten elsewhere in the world however, for example Jamaica (cooked)
  • In Hawaii they are eaten raw – at one time they were reserved for royalty

VIDEO LINK: PARROTFISH POOP

Credits: Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco for her great illustrative images. All photographs were taken on the reefs of Abaco, before the devastation and destruction of Hurricane Dorian last September; Florida Museum to cross-check facts; VIDEO – Scientific American

Yellowtail (Redfin) Parrotfish (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

PIPING PLOVERS: ABACO’S RARE WINTER RESIDENTS


Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

PIPING PLOVERS: ABACO’S RARE WINTER RESIDENTS

PIPING PLOVERS Charadrius melodus are specialist shorebirds on Abaco. For a start, they are very rare – the IUCN listing suggests a population of only 8000 mature birds in the world. They are both scarce numerically and limited geographically.

These tiny plovers breed only in a few defined areas of North America – areas that are rapidly reducing mostly for all the usual depressing human-derived causes, for example the exercise of man’s alienable right from time immemorial to drive vehicles all over the nesting sites in the breeding season. The birds are unsurprisingly IUCN listed as ‘near-threatened’. 

Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

Piping Plovers breed and nest in the north and produce their chicks. The chicks soon learn to be independent and to fly. From about mid-July, those adults and chicks that have avoided the wheels of the SUVs, the unleashed  dogs in the areas set aside for nesting, and the more natural dangers from gulls, start to get the urge to fly south for the winter. The range of their winter grounds is shown in blue on the range map above. It includes the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular.

Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

Q. WHY ARE THEY CALLED PIPING PLOVERS? A. BECAUSE OF THIS!

Paul Turgeon

I will return soon to the significance of the safe, clean beaches of Abaco and the healthy habitat for the survival of this remarkable little bird. For now, I’ll simply say that loss of habitat, and an increase in the nature and / or extent of environmental threats at either end of the migration, may seriously damage the survival of the species. It follows that habitat degradation at both ends of the migration could see the IUCN listing progress rapidly to vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered and… well, the next category is ‘extinct in the wild’. 

Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

If you are interested in shorebirds, in bird migration, in research into bird movements, and in the reason migratory birds are banded, you can find out more at ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH. This is the only season-long research project in the Bahamas, and involves Citizen Scientists on Abaco in the south working with partner Proper Scientists in the breeding grounds in the north. Early next month I will write a follow-up post on these topics. 

Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

The photographs in this post were taken a few days ago on the long crescent of beach at Winding Bay, Abaco by Lisa Davies. Her contribution is precious because the APPW project mentioned above was for many reasons in danger of stalling as the result of the devastating effects of Hurricane Dorian on almost every aspect of island life. Lisa’s discovery of a small flock of a dozen plovers in the sunshine has given impetus to the project – and has resulted in some superb photos.

Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

Credits: All photos by Lisa Davies; audio call, Paul Turgeon / Xeno-Canto; range map from WIKI

Piping Plovers, Winding Bay, Abaco, Bahamas (Lisa Davies)

ABACO PARROT: THE UNIQUE, ICONIC, AMAZING AMAZONA


ABACO PARROT: THE UNIQUE, ICONIC, AMAZING AMAZONA

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Credit: Fabulous in-flight shot by Nina Henry (contributor to ‘Birds of Abaco’)

WRY ‘CUDA & SARDONIC SMILES, ABACO BAHAMAS


Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

WRY ‘CUDA & SARDONIC SMILES, ABACO BAHAMAS

There’s no doubt about it, barracudas have a particularly unwelcoming look to them. They exude menace. There’s something about the torpedo shape, the primitive head, and the uncomfortably snaggle-toothed grin-with-underbite that suggests a creature not to be underestimated.

Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

And that smiley mouth – rather scornful and derisive, is it not? A powerful creature in its element, where you are the intruder… and it sees it like that too. An adult barracuda may grow to nearly 6 foot long. Your are only temporarily of its world, and (it observes) you are keeping your distance.

Barracuda, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / G B Scuba)

The dental arrangements of a ‘cuda are a wonder in themselves. The teeth are razor sharp; an orthodontist’s nightmare because they are all different sizes and grow at different angles. Some are conventionally set in the jaws, but some actually grow from the roof of the mouth. There are ‘normal’ sized teeth interspersed with wicked-looking fangs that randomly grow facing forwards, backwards and sideways.

Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

WHY THE UNTIDY MOUTH FURNITURE?Barracuda, Abaco Bahamas (Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco)

The name Barracuda is thought to derive from the Spanish word barraco meaning (in one of its senses) “overlapping teeth”. The jaws that contain the teeth are strong, and the underbite adds to the effectiveness of ‘cuda predation. Prey is highly unlikely to escape once caught.  When the jaws snap shut, the sharp angled teeth – particularly the back-facing ones (cf fishhook barbs) prevent the victim from pulling away. Then the munching and shredding can begin inside what is essentially a perfectly equipped multi-bladed mincing machine.

Credits: Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco except #3 & #8  Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Here’s looking at you…