SHARKS! APEX PREDATORS IN THE BAHAMAS


Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

SHARKS! APEX PREDATORS IN THE BAHAMAS

Immersion in current affairs these days brings inevitable acquaintance with sharks of various kinds, and all best avoided. Let’s have a look the real thing, the apex marine predators that in the Bahamas are all around you once you leave the safety of the shore. I haven’t featured them for ages, and it’s always a pleasure – a slight thrill, even.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

I don’t do scuba, indeed my swimming would easily be outclassed by a competent four-year old. But I see these creatures when I’m out fishing; or as they hang in the breaking waves off the Delphi beach, watching intently for a meal.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

We watch them (and stingrays) from the balcony as they lazily make their way round the margins of the wide bay, from little ‘uns to (recently) a huge bull shark. We watch as, when someone is in the water, they change course slightly to pass by them. So far, anyway…

Feeding sharksSharks feeding in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The one that got away… (a sad sight)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

I once took a rather primitive underwater camera with me while snorkelling in Fowl Cays National Park. This was several years ago, when I believed a cheap 2mb camera might turn me into one of the Blue Planet team. I was wrong. The shark I saw, apparently some 20 miles away (when I examined the image) – well, that’s its tail, top left…

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Just to look at these images is to understand that when you are in the sea, you are in the sharks’ environment. They are the masters of it. They have their rules, and they are not much interested in you… unless you break them. Or so the theory goes.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

This fine shark below exemplifies the power and the menace of the shark. A creature to be admired, but also to be respected.

Sharks in the Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

All fantastic photos: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

SCALY TALES: CURLY-TAILED LIZARDS ON ABACO


Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SCALY TALES: CURLY-TAILED LIZARDS ON ABACO

The northern curly-tailed lizard Leiocephalus carinatus, to give it its full name, resembles a tiny dragon with a twist in its tail. These little critters bask in the sun, or scuttle away into holes and crevices as you approach them. I suspect that even a confirmed herpophobic would find some charm in them. They are, of course, completely harmless to humans. 

Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

Surprisingly, the Bahamas is home not just to one but five different curly-tail species, and nine sub-species. Broadly-speaking, the variants are found on different and specific islands and have discrete local markings. Mostly they are brownish, but they may also be grey or with a greenish tinge like this one I recently photographed.

Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Curly-tail males, being very territorial, turn somewhat aggressive around breeding time, which is basically most the the year, from February to October. Behaviours indicative of their territorial claims include tail curling / uncurling (of course), head-bobbing, strutting about in an agitated way and inflating the sides of their necks in a threatening kind of way. The tiny-tails, 2″ long when born, are known as ‘hatchlings’.

An impressive ‘double curly’ by the pool at DelphiCurly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

THREATS TO CURLY TAILS

According to the Bahamas National Trust BNT, the main dangers to the curly-tails of the Bahamas are:

  • Dogs, cats, rats and introduced predators such as raccoons
  • Collection for the pet trade – curly tails are unprotected by CITES listing (also cute)
  • Collection of the rarer endemics by reptile enthusiasts seeking ‘exotics’
  • Development and habitat destruction (though it is noted that curly tails seem to adjust well in developed areas)

A curly tails sloughs its skin as it grows, as with snakes and other reptilesCurly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

WHY THE CURLY TAIL?

  • As mentioned above, for use in territorial posturing
  • In courtship displays by males to attract females (luckily a method not available to humans)
  • As a response to predators, confusing an attacker with movement at both ends
  • As a last resort, to detach to aid escape (the tail re-grows)
  • For fun and just because they can grow one and you cannot

Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: all photos, Keith Salvesen except #2 & #6, Charles Skinner; BNT

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD: RARE LEUCISTIC VARIANT ON ABACO


Leucistic Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRD

RARE LEUCISTIC VARIANT ON ABACO

The header image is of a Bahama mockingbird recently photographed by keen-eyed Abaco birder Keith Kemp. It is a thing of wonder and beauty, exceptionally rare and possibly unique. I can find no other example of a leucistic bird of this species online.

This is not Keith’s first leucistic bird discovery on Abaco either – a while back he found a leucistic Western spindalis. You can read more about leucism and its distinction from albinism, and see a number of other examples of leucism including a white turkey vulture HERE

Leucistic & Normal Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

Even more astonishingly, Keith managed to get a photo of the ‘white’ bird and a ‘normal’ bird together (above). The difference is startling. Below is a fine photo by Peter Mantle of a Bahama mockingbird, as you would expect to see one – basically brown with a pale, flecked front / underside.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

LEUCISM? EXCUSE ME, AND THAT IS?

I’ll recap what I wrote in the earlier post linked above. First, what it is not. It is not albinism, which results from diminished or lost melanin production that affects pigmentation. One characteristic of the condition is the tendency to pink eyes, which of course is seen in humans as well as animals and birds. For example:

Albino Rabbit (pinterest)

Albino Fwuffy Bwunny Wabbit

WELL, WHAT IS IT THEN?

Put simply, melanin is only one of many ingredients of pigmentation. Leucism is caused by pigment loss involving many types of pigment, not just melanin. In birds this results in unnaturally pale or white colouring of feathers that may be partial or entire. The eyes of a bird with leucism are unaffected – so, not pink. At one extreme, if all pigment cells fail, a white bird will result; at the other extreme, pigment defects cause patches and blotches of pale or white on the bird, often called a ‘pied’ effect. The condition can be inherited.

KK’s leucistic Western spindalis, an example of partial or ‘pied’ leucism

Leucistic Western Spindalis, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp) Leucistic Western Spindalis, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

So there you have it: another extreme rarity for Abaco, and a further example of how rewarding – and surprising – birding on Abaco can be. To repeat the link to the more detailed article on leucism in birds, you can find with (*distraction alert*) some music and inappositely comedic material thrown in HERE

All photos Keith Kemp except the ‘normal’ bird, Peter Mantle

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS REVISITED ON ABACO


LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHERS REVISITED ON ABACO

LA SAGRA’S FLYCATCHER Myiarchus sagrae is one of 3 permanent resident ‘tyrant’ flycatchers found on Abaco, the others being the CUBAN PEWEE and the LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD. In the summer, they are joined by another commonly-found species, the GRAY KINGBIRD. There are other flycatchers, but they are seasonal, transient or vagrant, and far less common. 

Two classic LSF poses: ‘head-on-one-side’ & ‘watching-for-insects’

I have just been watching one of these frankly rather very cute little birds as it patiently watched me watching it. I wasn’t very close, and I kept my distance because it seemed a little wary and I didn’t want to blow the chance of a couple of photos – the familiar ‘bird-flies-off-just-as-shutter-pressed’ syndrome.

Sized between the little cuban pewee, with its diagnostic crescent eyes, and the larger loggerhead kingbird (see below), the LSF shares with them the ability to raise its crest. I was luckily able to catch this on camera – and also some singing.

As the name suggests, the species is primarily insectivore, fly-catching in the undergrowth and low scrub or ‘hawking’ from branches. However these birds also eat berries and seeds. Their call is a high pitched single or double noted sound described as ‘wink’. Here’s a Bahamian example.

Paul Driver / Xeno-Canto

The LSF’s natural habitat is coppice and rough scrubland. It builds its nest in a tree cavity or similar natural hole, and usually lays a clutch of two to four eggs. And this morning by coincidence, Abaco birder Rhonda Pearce posted a photo of a LSF nest with its eggs.

ID CONFUSION

Here are the two flycatcher species, mentioned above, that might cause confusion:

CUBAN PEWEE

LOGGERHEAD KINGBIRD

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris (1798–1871)

For those who may be wondering who – or what – a ‘La Sagra’ is, the answer is: a multi-talented Spanish botanist. He was also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). At one time he lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden. His name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be an oxymoron…)

[I note in passing that La Sagra is a provincial area in Spain, an Italian festive celebration, a chocolatier, or a small comet – all of which meanings may have to be negotiated online before you get to the flycatcher…]

To continue with the occasional PHILATELIC theme of this blog, here are stamps from the Cayman Islands and Cuba featuring the La Sagra’s Flycatcher. The Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the man who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on the LSF. The colouring is… somewhat unrealistic!

Credits: All photos Keith Salvesen except nest (Rhonda Pearce) and loggerhead kingbird (Mrs RH); recording by Paul Driver / Xeno-Canto; stamps O/S

AGGRO ON ABACO: ‘PARROTS OF THE CARIBBEAN’


Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

AGGRO ON ABACO: GOTCHA!

‘PARROTS OF THE CARIBBEAN’

Mmmmm… gumbo limbo berries at Bahama Palm Shores. My favourite evening snack as we parrots head south to the National Park in the evening. 

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

There’s a flock of about 60 of us tonight. I hope I’m left alone to get stuck in – there are plenty of trees to choose from here…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Uh oh! That was never going to happen. We are a noisy rowdy gang, and no one gets to eat alone for long…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

This is really bad news… this guy’s hungry, and he’s swooped in higher up the branch, so he’s got an advantage.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Time to take a stand. I’m getting on a level with him. I was here first – these are MY berries… But he’s getting shouty. And there’s aggro in the air…

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Right, I’m backing off here. I never did much like gumbo limbo berries, now I come to think of it… And he looks mean as hell. But wait – I’m not just going to back down. Let’s give him a little surprise to remember me by.

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

GOTCHA!

Abaco (Cuban) Parrots, Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Photo sequence taken at BPS (North) around 17.00, when often the parrots flock to the gardens and surrounding coppice on their way home in the south of the island; raucous recording also made at BPS on an earlier visit. All ©Keith Salvesen

LEAST BUT NOT LAST: TINY SANDPIPERS ON ABACO


Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

LEAST BUT NOT LAST: TINY SANDPIPERS ON ABACO

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Least Sandpipers Calidris Minutilla are the smallest ‘peeps’ to be found on Abaco. There are plenty of other sandpiper species, but none so tiny as these. Take a look at the image above. See them? All 3 of them? Just look at their size in comparison with the mangrove stems.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

I took these photos from the sharp end of a skiff a few days ago, way out on the Marls and with a fishing rod tucked under one arm. We were on a drift along the shoreline, and these little guys were foraging on the water’s edge as we silently floated past.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

They were quite unperturbed by our presence, being far too busy feeding to be bothered with us. I have usually seen these little birds on the beach, busy in the wrack-line rootling out goodies. There, they look very small – but not nearly as tiny as when foraging among the mangrove stems.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

I debated whether to do some cropping to magnify the details on the page, so to speak, but then I decided that these very sweet creatures deserved their own space without the indignity of close inspection. Context is all.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

These mini-sandpipers may be Least by name, but they are very far from last in my personal list of favourite peeps. There are some down on the beach right now, but there’s some cloud cover today… I’ll wait for the sun to catch them in the best light.

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

SPOT THE LEAST SANDPIPER

Least Sandpipers Calidris minutilla, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (10) : HAMMOCK SKIPPER


Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

BUTTERFLIES ON ABACO (10)

HAMMOCK SKIPPER

The Hammock Skipper Polygonus leo is quite a small butterfly. We found the ones shown here in the vegetation at the back of the Delphi beach. Having initially thought this was a Northern Cloudywing (and a ‘lifer’ for me), Colin Redfern has kindly corrected my (mis-)ID, and I have made the consequent changes.

Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

Perhaps unusually for butterflies these skippers are sexually ‘monomorphic’, i.e. very similar in both sexes. Males and females both have completely dark brown wings except for the small white spots.

Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

We noticed that the spots and patterns were (again, unusually?) not symmetrical as between the wings. [That should probably be ‘not reflectively symmetrical’, as with a Rorschach inkblot.]

 

Hammock Skipper - Polygonus leo, Abaco Bahamas (©Keith Salvesen)

All photos, Keith Salvesen; timely ID correction courtesy of Colin Redfern…