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)

THE MYSTERIOUS ‘ABACO PARROTS’ OF NASSAU


Nassau Parrots (1) Melissa Maura

THE MYSTERIOUS ‘ABACO PARROTS’ OF NASSAU

Where did they come from, and when did they arrive on New Providence? And how? The conventional wisdom is that the Cuban Amazon or rose-throated parrots (Amazona leucocephala) exist in the Bahamas only on South Abaco (from Marsh Harbour down to the National Park) and Inagua. The species is arguably (but not as yet officially) divisible into two subspecies. On Inagua, the parrots behave as you’d expect, including in their breeding and tree-nesting habits. Conversely, the parrots of Abaco nest underground in limestone holes and crevices in the National Park at the southern end of the island. This very distinctive habit makes them vulnerable to predators of course. On the other hand, there is good protection from the forest fires that pass rapidly and harmlessly  through the scrub above them, yet which would make tree-nesting extremely hazardous. It would be interesting to know if the parrots of Abaco have always done this; or whether they were originally tree nesters who adapted their behaviour to meet changed conditions in their habitat.

Nassau Parrots (2 of 5) Melissa Maura

WHEN DID THE PARROTS ARRIVE IN NASSAU?

The BAHAMA PARROTS OF NASSAU LOCATOR group was set up on Facebook in early 2012 by Shelley Cant-Woodside. Lynn Gape of the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) was also involved from that early stage. The stated purpose of the group was “to help locate the increasing reports of parrot sightings on NP in general and Nassau in particular”. This suggests an increased awareness of an existing intrusion of the colourful and noisy Cuban parrots, a species hard to mistake or ignore. At the other end of the time-scale for their arrival on NP, when omniscient and much-missed ornithologist Tony White published his comprehensive checklist for each Bahama island in his Birder’s Guide to the Bahama Islands (inc. TCI) in 1998, no record existed of a sighting of a Bahamas parrot on NP. Abaco and Inagua, yes. But nowhere else. So that gives less than a 14-year window for a parrot influx.

Nassau Parrots - Lynn Gape

SO HOW DID THEY GET TO NP?

There are realistically two possibilities. Either two or more captive parrots on NP (including a male and a female!) escaped or were released on NP; or were brought to NP and freed. Alternatively, says another theory, a flock of parrots in the Abaco National Park were caught up in a hurricane, and involuntarily relocated to the nearest land in the confusion. It could of course be both (Helpful Reader: “…or neither?”). Shelley tells me: I know that ARDASTRA GARDENS (Nassau Zoo) positively identified Bahama Parrots on New Providence as early as 2004, which is when I worked there. We were told at the time that some folks had purposely released them. I doubt that it is related to hurricanes”.

Nassau Parrots (Sandy Cunningham)

RELEASED BIRDS

This theory is by far the most likely one, and is supported by anecdotal evidence. Even so, it is not entirely straightforward. I don’t know what protection was afforded the parrots in the Bahamas in the early 2000s, but certainly there were captive birds; and indeed there was and is a market for this species of Amazona further afield – Cuba for example, and (to my huge surprise) the UK, where a single bird may be had for £380 ($500). But even assuming the existence of a few males and females, they would have needed to breed. And there are few, if any, contemporary reports of parrot nests in trees; or of chicks or juveniles. If these bright, noisy birds were new to Nassau around 2004, they must surely have attracted some attention if they were breeding and spreading from then on.

Nassau Parrots (3) Melissa Maura

HURRICANE MAELSTROM

I have taken a look at several Bahamas hurricanes and tropical storms between 2004 (the Ardastra ID) and 2012 (Locator page founded). Tracking and intensity information rules out most of them. It’s fair to say that the paths of the storms are almost invariably from the south / east veering west / northwards. You might think that a parrot flock could not be carried by hurricane 50 miles in the opposite direction, from the south of Abaco to New Providence. But perhaps disorientation and self-preservation play their parts – a psittacine instinct to fly away from the danger, in the opposite direction from its path, towards where the weather is calmer.

Hurricane Irene tracking pathHurricane Irene_2011_track

WHAT’S THE ANSWER, THEN?

To check the rival theories, I asked well-known scientist and parrot expert Caroline Stahala for her views. This authoritative opinion leads to the conclusion that the Parrots of Nassau result from escape, or release from captivity, perhaps supplemented by later importation.

“I know people like the ‘hurricane’ theory but there isn’t much support for it, especially since we did get reports through-the-grapevine that someone had released these birds. They did show up after a serious hurricane season Frances/Jeanne etc [2004] but thats probably because their housing in Nassau was damaged or the person who had them couldn’t take care of them properly. During hurricanes, parrots don’t fly away, they hunker down and ride out the storm. Amazon parrots absolutely do not like flying over large bodies of water, their wings are designed to be super manoeuverable in forests, not for distance flights, so the chance that they would fly over water during a hurricane is very very slim.  Not to mention a whole group of them (6-12)”. 

On the other hand, it’s not that simple. Lynn Gape (BNT) comments: “I heard the hurricane theory differently. I was told that someone thought that the parrots flew to Nassau with a flock of White Crowned Pigeons after one of the hurricanes. The thought being that although they do not like to fly over water, they were really in need of food and felt there would be strength in numbers for the flight”.

Nassau Parrots 3 (Neill Pritchard)

WHERE CAN I FIND THEM?

Almost all reported sightings have been in East Nassau. Occasional sightings have been reported outside that area but the overwhelming majority are within the RED oval on the map below, with the hotspot area within the ORANGE oval. I base this both on the Locator page and also the somewhat sporadic eBird reports.

Nassau Map 2 v2 jpg

SO THE NASSAU PARROTS MUST BE BREEDING, RIGHT?

Parrot sighting reports are increasing but that fact, as I have discovered on Abaco, does not necessarily suggest an increasing population. Increased citizen enthusiasm and awareness is also linked to increased bird reporting, as is the advent of simple reporting systems such as social media posts, eBird and so forth. However the impression I get from reading the Locator posts is that, while evidence of actual population growth is unclear, numbers may be being maintained despite an inevitable attrition rate. The Locator has sad images of 2 known casualties, causes of death unknown.

Nassau Parrots (Lynn Gape)

WHERE ARE THEY NESTING, THEN?

It seems that, unlike Abaco, there is no secluded forested area on NP with suitable limestone terrain to provide underground caves. Therefore the parrots must be finding other suitable cavities, the most obvious being in trees. As far as I can make out, there have been very few – if any – reports of juvenile parrots being seen. For that matter, there have been none of nesting behaviour either – a pair of parrots in a tree preparing a nest, taking turns on the eggs, foraging for food for the chicks, or squawking flying instructions at the fledglings**. So perhaps there is an unfrequented area of coppice on NP, some distance from the bustle of Nassau, where all this takes place in midsummer. By the time they put in an appearance in the town, they have already grown to young adulthood.

**COMMENT On the question of evidence of  nesting behaviour, Lynn Gape says: “I have seen four parrots in my garden, and they exhibited behaviour similar to what I have seen with adult and juvenile parrots on Inagua – calling for food, and adults feeding them. So possibly there may have been some successful breeding”. 

This recent photo (below) by Ian Coerbell shows the sort of tree cavity that according to Caroline Stahala might be a possible nesting site. She says:

“I did document a nesting pair of Abaco parrots in Nassau. The nest was in a tree cavity. However, as long as the birds have been there, the numbers do not seem to have increased. For some reason they aren’t very successful on NP. Melissa Maura rehabbed a young Abaco parrot that was found malnourished & dehydrated in Nassau. She ended up releasing it but we don’t know what happened to it.” 

Nassau Parrots : ?Nesting site (Ian Coerbell)

Cat Binks has commented that she believes there is a nesting location in an overgrown lot adjacent within the ‘hotspot’ area. She sees them most evenings, sometimes as many as six. Cat also confirms that “enthusiasm and awareness has increased… I’m getting daily feedback about fly-overs [in the hotpsot area]”.

A parrot and chick in a limestone cave nest on AbacoLimestone Holes & Abaco Parrots 09

HOW MANY OF THEM ARE THERE?

The BNT gave this estimate of numbers a few years ago: “There is a very small population (less than ten individuals) on the island of New Providence”. I suspect it is difficult to make a reliable estimate of numbers now. The birds are unbanded, and there is a considerable risk of double-counting when the sightings are of 2 or 3 at a time, in different locations over a very small area. I think it’s possible that the number has reached double figures, and that in any event it is not diminishing despite some casualties. 

Caroline points out that there is a good chance of interbreeding between feral Amazon species in Nassau that ‘hang out’ with the so-called Abaco parrots: “That would basically make the Bahama parrot population a hybrid and not of much conservation use. Having said that, I still think its really neat that the birds are there and I hope everyone enjoys seeing them in a natural setting. Hopefully we can find out more about them in the next few years”.   

Lynn comments: “With regards to the interbreeding with feral parrots that does not seem to be a problem at this time – we did at one time see them with a Yellow Nape Amazon but that bird has disappeared; and according to Caroline Stahala they will not breed with the Black-headed Parakeet. We thought that the birds did nest in a large tree right on Parliament Street. Caroline Stahala and Predensa Moore investigated but did not find conclusive proof. However the timing would correspond with the time when Melissa found and took care of the young parrot”.

Nassau Parrots 2 (Neill Pritchard

WHAT ARE THE HAZARDS FOR THE PARROTS?

Numerous, as you’d imagine, especially in an urban setting, though the birds may have adapted their behaviour to an extent to avoid some of the obvious dangers. There is evidence that some birds are already adapting to urban life, as this recent photo shows. Two parrots have teamed up with a black-hooded parakeet (presumably escaped or released from captivity) to investigate a vehicle and maybe play with the windshield wipers… Nassau Parrots *(with black-hooded parakeet) Tim Colclough

STOP PRESS Parrot in a Gumelemi tree, Skyline Heights, Nassau. A great shot by Linda J Clews, with thanks. The parrots have sadly stopped coming to her property since the clearance of coppice to make way for the golf course of the Baha Mar development – an example of the effects of habitat loss on wildlife.Cuban Amazon Parrot, Nassau (Linda J Clews)

ARE THEY PROTECTED, OR CAN WE CAGE THEM OR SHOOT THEM?

Yes, and no, and definitely not. According to the Bahamas National Trust “Bahama Parrots are protected under the Wild Birds (Protection) Act. It is illegal to harm or capture or offer this bird for sale. The Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) list the Bahama Parrot in Appendix 1 meaning that it is a species which is near extinction or very endangered”.

If anyone would like to know what a flock of these wonderful but uninhibitedly raucous birds sounds like, this is a short recording I made at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (an excellent hotspot for them incidentally). 

USEFUL LINKS

NASSAU PARROT LOCATOR

BNT PARROT FACT SHEET

ABACO PARROTS

A true Abaco Parrot at Bahama Palm Shores…
Abaco (Cuban) Parrot (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Shelley Cant-Woodside and Caroline Stahala for information and advice; Locator page members for active or tacit use permissions; photos by Melissa Maura (1, 2, 5); Lynn Gape (3, 7); Sandy Cunningham (4); Neill Pritchard (6, 10); Ian Coerbell (8); Caroline Stahala (9); Tim Colclough (11); Linda Clews (12); Keith Salvesen (13)

BAHAMAS SHARKS: THE MATING GAME & LITTLE BUDDIES


Shark! Melinda Riger copy

BAHAMAS SHARKS: THE MATING GAME & LITTLE BUDDIES

Sharks: apex predators of the deep. Also, kind to the suckers who hang out with them – REMORAS. In the header image you can see a remora hitching a ride on the shark’s back.

Sharks also seem to enjoy, or at least tolerate, the company of tiny fish – tiddlers so small they don’t even count as a snack or even a canapé. Shark & wee fish ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaShark & Tiddler ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaShark & buddy ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Check out the shark-jaw shaped wound on the shark just above. And the rather more dramatic ones on the two sharks below. Shark sex can be a rough old game, and sometimes results in moderate or even severe injury to one participant – or perhaps to both.

Shark with mating marks ©Melinda Riger @ G B ScubaShark mating wounds ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

Credits: all great shark photos recently taken by Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

“PIPER” (THE SANDERLING?) – THE ULTIMATE CHICK FLICK?


piper-pixar-640x425

“PIPER” (THE SANDERLING?) – THE ULTIMATE CHICK FLICK?

Yes, yes, I realise that Pixar / Disney’s latest candidate shoo-in for the Oscar in the ‘Totes Adorbz Animatid Tweetie Pie’ category isn’t actually real. [Oh! Did I really need to put a *spoiler alert* before that first sentence, I wonder? If so, sorreeeeeeee!] Piper, the awesomely cute chick star of the already famous ‘short’, is clearly a shorebird of some sort. She’s obviously not a piping plover named ‘Piper’ – indeed, judging by the appearance of her mom, she is obviously based on one of the small sandpiper species. In fact, she most resembles a SANDERLING (Calidris Alba) who is, not unreasonably, called ‘Piper’. 

According to an article in THE VERGE, the film-makers spent a great deal of time with shorebirds, especially sanderlings, studying all their little ways for verisimilitude in the film. Not just in appearance, of course, but in movement and behaviour (see viddy below).

A real (as opposed to CGI / cartoon) sanderling strutting its stuff on the Delphi beachSanderling, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

“KEEP CLAM AND OPEN IT”636005803745806295-Piper-1.pub16.1-RGB

PIPER the film is described thus: “This wordless short follows a young bird who’s forced by her mother to start collecting her own clams. Her first attempt is a disaster. A crashing wave leaves the little bird soaked and terrified… She isn’t too eager to return to the shoreline, but, with the help of a tiny hermit crab, Piper musters the courage to try again and even starts to enjoy the hunt”. 

Sanderlings love water. They run along the tideline. They run towards the retreating tide to forage in the soft sand. They run away from the next wave as it rolls in. They run everywhere. Sometimes they bathe in rock pools or TIDE POOLS. Here’s a short video I took on the Delphi beach that demonstrates the crazy realtime scuttling that goes on.

And this is the very excellent BIRD & MOON take on Sanderling:

IMG_3834 - Version 2 copy

SOME CUTE CLIPS from “PIPER”

636005801449598138-piper-s200-107cs.sel16.577-RGB1030108-pixar-piper-0211345463piper-pixar-short

There’s no one in the world who’s going to have a word to say against this charming film, so not even having seen it I am going to cut to the chase with an immediate review:

ROLLING HARBOUR MOVIE RATING  images-2 images-2 images-2 images-2 images-2 wickle tiny fluffballs

THE OFFICIAL PREVIEW

Please note: as yet I have not faced the question of forthcoming animated animal films, but no doubt I’ll get round to a post, provisionally entitled “Close Encounters of the Furred Kind”.

Credits: Pixar / Disney, The Verge, Birdorable, Bird & Moon, open source material and self for the real bird on the beach + video clip. Also, Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ and Wader Quest who posted similar jocular ornithological comparisons.

SPONGES ON THE REEF: A COLOURFUL MISCELLANY


Brown Tube Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

SPONGES ON THE REEF: A COLOURFUL MISCELLANY

It’s time to take an up-close look at some of the sponges you may find as you snorkel or scuba round the reefs of the Bahamas. I am always amazed by how bright and colourful they are, and by their many different shapes and sizes. Even the unpromising sounding (slightly medical, even?) BROWN TUBE SPONGE turns out to be fascinating to examine closely. Here are some more sponge species. 

CANDELABRA SPONGECandelabra Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

STOVE PIPE SPONGEStove Pipe Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

PURPLE VASE SPONGEVase Sponge, purple ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

BRANCHING TUBE SPONGE WITH ROPE SPONGESponges - Branching Tube Sponge with rope sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PURPLE TUBE SPONGEPurple Tube Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ GB Scuba

PURPLE SPONGE WITH GIANT ANEMONEPurple Sponge : Giant Anemone ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

VASE SPONGEVase Sponge ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba

The above sponges represent a fraction of the sponge varieties found on Bahamas reefs. I’ll post some more quite soon. All this has made me want to go for a snorkel. But right now I am 30 miles from the sea. And I have no gear…

HANG ON A MOMENT! WHAT IS A SPONGE WHEN IT’S AT HOME?

It’s really very simple: if you are ever asked the question, just reply “a sponge is a primitive sedentary aquatic invertebrate with a soft porous body that is typically supported by a framework of fibres or calcareous or glassy spicules. Sponges draw in a current of water to extract nutrients and oxygen”.

AND WHAT, PRAY, IS A SPICULE?

You’re having a laugh… if you seriously want to know, read the abbreviated version about them HERE. And admire this microscopic collage of ‘demospongiae spicule diversity’ made available by the wonders of Wiki and the research of about 20 credited scientists.

Demospongiae_spicule_diversity

All photos: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba. Tip of the hat to Wiki and scientists

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…


PIPL adult & chick (Jordan Rutter)

“ON THEIR WAY”: THE PIPING PLOVER MIGRATION HAS BEGUN…

The last piping plover known to have left Abaco for the summer breeding grounds was the renowned ‘Tuna’, in early April. We can’t say where he ended up – there are no reported sighting of him this summer from the NJ beach where he was born, raised and banded – or from anywhere else. The unbanded Delphi contingent had left the beach by the end of March.

TunaPiping Plover Tuna. Abaco. Oct 10. Rhonda Pearce

Besides Tuna, of the named banded birds resighted on Abaco beaches last season (e.g. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Jonesy, Bahama Mama, Benny, Bess), only the most distant visitor Bahama Mama returned to her original beach in Muskegon State Park. Her mate from last year (‘Little Guy’) had already shacked up with another bird, so BM did likewise. Carol Cooper reports that all birds had left the beach by July 23.

Bahamas Pink Band 52PIPL Pink Band 52, Abaco (Walker Golder)

As for Bahamas ‘Pink Bands’ – winter-banded birds – the BAHAMAS SHOREBIRD CONSERVATION INITIATIVE has posted a wonderful interactive map produced by Audubon which shows the astonishing extent of the migration undertaken by these little birds. Unfortunately none of last winter’s Abaco ‘pink numbers’ are shown as resighted. You can reach this great resource by clicking the image below. This will take you to the original – I am trying to work out how best to embed the map in my sidebar.

Click me!Pink band PIPL map (Audubon : BSCI)

Reports of migrating PIPL are beginning to come in and will accelerate over the next few weeks. First with a Bahamas report is Linda Barry-Cooper (West End Ecology Tours), who spotted 3 at Sandy Cay, West End, Grand Bahama on July 21 (‘10.00 a.m., high water’). With a modest fanfare of greeting, here are those first Bahamas birds of the season.

Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)Piping plovers, West End, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry-Cooper)

ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH

Last season was an important one for having a bird count on Abaco, with the four-yearly census taking place in January. I started The Watch rather nonchalantly, but it quickly picked up enthusiasm and momentum and in the end it was of significant use for the official bird count. Here are the compressed stats for the from the end of July 2105 to January 2016. You will see – possibly with some surprise – that in only 5 months 3.83% of the total presumed piping plover population in the world was found on Abaco. And of course that’s only a total from sightings on certain beaches, mostly easily accessible, by a relatively small number of monitors. How many more were there on the all the unexplored expanses of beach, or indeed out on the Marls?

12645249_238060709872861_4615782903299666904_n

The question is whether to continue the watch this coming season. If so, best to get it sorted before the first birds arrive any day now. I have decided  to carry on, but – since it isn’t a census year –  with a lighter touch this time (it’s a time-consuming process and there’s other stuff going on in my life.) Accordingly I would welcome reports of all Abaco sightings. If you are in doubt whether what you are seeing is a piping plover or some other shorebird, a photo or even a phone pic for ID would be great. The most helpful information to give is:

  • Date and time
  • Single bird or number of birds (if countable) or an estimate
  • Whether banded or not
  • If so, details of the banding: band or flag, colours, visible numbers etc
  • If at all possible, photos of the bird and its legs… I am able to enhance apparently dim or fuzzy pictures to some extent, so don’t worry if you don’t get a perfect shot.
  • If possible, state of tide – high, low, half-way, coming in, going out
  • Also, what the bird is doing – foraging, sleeping, rushing round in circles etc
  • Finally, location as accurately as possible. Area, name of beach, whereabouts (middle, east end, south end etc)

Piping Plover (juv) CT (Danny Sauvageau)

If you are one of the volunteer beach monitors from last year, I will be emailing you. If you’d like to monitor your own or a favourite beach, I’d love to hear from you.

CONTACT

Piping Plover, Abaco - Charmaine Albury

Photo Credits: Jordan Rutter, Rhonda Pearce, Linda Barry-Cooper x 3, Danny Sauvageau, Charmaine Albury

 

“TUVU” (TURKEY VULTURE) ON LUBBERS QUARTERS, ABACO


Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

“TUVU” (TURKEY VULTURE) ON LUBBERS QUARTERS, ABACO

Lubbers Quarters is a Cay off the southern tip of Elbow Cay, and home to the excellent Cracker P’s restaurant. Also, home to Larry Towning, who takes terrific sunrise and sunset photos, among other subjects that include birds. He recently happened upon a Turkey Vulture sitting on a POISONWOOD stump (do not rush to try that – you may not sit down again for weeks). I like the immediacy of these. Most TUVU shots – by me, anyway – are (a) flying – usually coming out as silhouettes; or (b) atop a utility post with wires in the way, or (c) on the ground scavenging something revolting in the way of carrion. This bird is only dreaming about doing that.

“WARTS AND ALL…”Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

The nostrils are not divided by a septum, but are perforated; from the side one can right see through (and as I have previously noted, some humans also suffer from MSS  – missing septum syndrome. They tend to sniff a lot)Turkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

LUBBERS QUARTER CAY        Lubbers Quarters Map

NOT SAD… JUST THINKING ABOUT DEAD DECAYING THINGS TO EATTurkey Vulture, Lubbers Quarter, Abaco (Larry Towning)

To read much more about Turkey Vultures, find a bundle of interesting facts and learn about their sex lives and frankly disgusting habits with urine and vomit, check out ‘CARRION SCAVENGING‘.

Photo credit: Larry Towning; Tropicat (Poisonwood link)