DOLPHINS: JUST AS SMART AS YOU ARE…


Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

DOLPHINS: JUST AS SMART AS YOU ARE…

Anyone watching David Attenborough’s astounding new Blue Planet 2 series will already have got the strong message that dolphins are smart, sociable, and joyous creatures. Brian Lockwood from Porquoson VA – and recently become an Abaco resident – knows a smart way to get out on the water to watch them at close quarters: a jetski. Here are a few of the outstanding photos he has recently taken of dolphins doing what they love to do, and what humans love them to do. 

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

Bottlenose Dolphin (Brian Lockwood)

The hint of a quote in the heading of this post is based on something the inimitable Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, once claimed: “When I see a dolphin I know it’s just as smart as I am…”.  The only slight problem with this comparative assessment is that there may have been times when the good Captain was conceivably on, or adjacent to, a different planet. Times when the dolphins might actually have got the intellectual upper hand.

Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood) Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood) Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood)

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION FOR THE WEEKEND

There are plenty of excellent songs name-checking dolphins somewhere in the lyrics. Rather fewer with ‘dolphin’ in the title. Yes, there’s the Tim Buckley song (or the Beth Orton version of it). The insipid Firefall one? Nah! Then I remembered the Byrds and their ‘Dolphin’s Smile’. Never a single. Originally buried on “Side 2” of Notorious Byrd Brothers. Slightly obscure? Makes a change, so here it is, complete with its evocative yet synthetic ‘dolphin chatter’ intro.

Credits: all the wonderful dolphins taken by Brian Lockwood, with thanks for use permission

Bottlenose Dolphins (Brian Lockwood)

TWO BOOKS: BIRDS, FISHING & DELPHI x 2


TWO BOOKS: BIRDS, FISHING & DELPHI x 2

November 1st. All Hallows, when the tricks or treats have passed, the amusing costumes are packed away for next year, and all restless souls are at peace once more. It’s a significant day for me – the first day I acknowledge the inevitability of the festive season. This, despite (or because of) the fact that Xmas shopping catalogues, charity appeals, store displays and optimistic ‘Book Your Christmas Dinner Today notices started to appear in early August… 

BOOK NEWS

The Birds of Abaco by Keith Salvesen

“THE BIRDS OF ABACO”

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ SPECIAL OFFER ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

We are reducing the price of the book for the time being, probably until early January. The price for each copy will now be $88 inc VAT + shipping. As always, you can arrange a drop at a convenient location in MH. To the many who have bought the book on Abaco and further afield, and been so appreciative, many thanks.

For those who haven’t come across the book but kindly follow ‘Rolling Harbour’, here is the original flyer which will give you an idea of its contents.

The Birds of Abaco by Keith Salvesen (flyer info)

Cuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

DOUBLE DELPHI

Double Delphi - jacket (Peter Mantle / KS edit)

Meanwhile, Peter Mantle’s wonderful recently published account of both his Delphis, East in Ireland and West in the Bahamas, is going down a storm. His ‘fisherman’s fantasy’ has had excellent reviews and has been featured in Trout & Salmon magazine, with other articles to come. Click the heading to find out more about the book, its cast of colourful characters, strange histories, triumphs and disasters, and most of all the fishing at each of Peter’s renowned Lodges: created from a ruin in one case; and from thick coppice in the other.

Double Delphi is for sale at $44 + shipping.

Email: delphi.bahamas@gmail.com

Direct online ordering of Peter’s book: https://wallopbooks.com/

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird (f), Delphi, Abaco: Keith Salvesen

PIPING PLOVERS ON GRAND BAHAMA (for a change…)


Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

PIPING PLOVERS ON GRAND BAHAMA (for a change…)

I used to go on a bit about piping plovers*, because they are so special. Rare. Endangered. Creatures rewarding observation, and deserving research and conservation. Most of all, they favour the Bahamas for their winter migration destination.  The islands – especially Abaco, Grand Bahama and Andros – provide a safe and unspoiled habitat for them in winter. The photographs shown here are piping plovers taken on Grand Bahama in early September by well-known birding guide Erika Gates, who has kindly given me use permission.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

These days, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH diverts PIPL from these pages to a dedicated Facebook page. Now in its 3rd season, useful data is being collected for the research teams in the breeding grounds in North America by volunteer beach monitors**. Some are regular, some are occasional, some are one-off reporters: all contribute to the overall picture. In particular we are able to identify individual banded birds and track them back to their summer locations.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

WHAT USE IS THAT?

Almost every banded bird resighted this season is a returner to exactly the same beach as before. Some are here for their third or even fourth year. These tiny birds are therefore surviving a journey of between 1000 and 2000 miles each autumn and again each spring – and locating their favourite beaches with unerring accuracy. A few are resighted en route during their migration; often we get reports of their nesting and breeding news during the summer.  Their little lives can be pieced together.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

AND THE CONCLUSION TO BE DRAWN?

The summer breeding grounds generally have conservation programs that help to protect the nesting birds from danger and disturbance. Those are the most vulnerable weeks for the adults and their chicks. The arrival of the plovers each autumn on Grand Bahama, Abaco and elsewhere in the Bahamas demonstrates their ‘beach fidelity’. They are confident that the beaches offer a safe and secure winter habitat where they are left alone. And when the time comes in Spring, they will be ready to make the long journey north again for the breeding season.

Piping Plover, Grand Bahama (Erika Gates)

* uncouth reader “you certainly did…

** additional volunteers welcome! If you walk a beach once a fortnight or even a month, own a piece of paper & a pencil, can count, and ideally have a camera or even a phone, you too can be a citizen scientist!

Photo credits: all photos, Erika Gates, with many thanks. Erika’s related websites are 

CARL LINNAEUS: CLASSIFYING NATURAL HISTORY (1)


Carl Linneaus Portrait (OS)

CARL LINNAEUS: CLASSIFYING NATURAL HISTORY (1)

‘THE FIRST EDITION’

Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778) is arguably the most renowned Swedish naturalist. Maybe unarguably. Before the age of 30, his orderly and rigorous scientific methodology had created a new standard system for the classification of the natural world. As initial challenges to his great work fell to one side, so he bestrode his present and the future natural world as a great innovator. His system has stood the test of time to this day – and in Latin, too. As the saying goes, “Deus Creavit; Linnaeus Disposuit“: God created, Linnaeus organised. In fact, Linnaeus himself was (rather vainly?) the originator of the adage…

ANIMAL, VEGETABLE & MINERAL

Linnaeus first had to define the broad categories in order to organise them into their component parts. He chose regnum animale, regnum vegetabile and regnum lapideum – the animal, vegetable (plant) and mineral kingdoms. Here are some examples, photographed in the climate-controlled ‘treasures room’ at the Linnean Society, London during a viewing with the Librarian.

The first column of the first substantive page of the first edition of Systema Naturae (1735). This is the start of it all – the ‘man-like’ creatures Man [classed as a quadruped], apes and… 3-toed sloths (Bradypus), later to be moved to a more comfortable place. After that come creatures large and small, wild and domesticated, including lions, bears, cats, weasels, and moles. Canis included not only the dog, wolf, and fox but also… the squillachi. The last one is a mystery – a quick online search reveals only a footballer of that name.

Systema Naturae 1735 - quadrupeds (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

At the bottom of the first column, horses, hippos, elephants and varieties of pig are classified together; followed by varieties of camel, deer, goat, sheep and cattle.

Systema Naturae 1735 - quadrupeds 2 (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

Linnaeus’s achievements in ‘organising’ were twofold. First, he grouped creatures, plants and minerals into similar species, using his prodigious knowledge to arrange the groups into defined hierarchies (and as it was to turn out, not invariably correctly). Secondly, he adapted and refined an existing but somewhat random scheme into his structured binomial system, attaching two names to each creature, plant or mineral. The first name was a general categorisation (‘genera’); the second was more specific (‘species’). Consistency was achieved for the first time. Linnaeus was indeed the ‘father of taxonomy’ as we still know it today. He probably called himself that as well.

Here are some of the birds – grackles, doves, gulls and so on down the list. The latin names will be very familiar to birders, since they are still used today. The birds are followed by columns for amphibians, fishes, insects and sea creatures such as jellyfish, conchs and urchins.

Systema Naturae 1735 - birds (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

Entries in the minerals section, with schist, marble and quartz perhaps the most easily identifiable.Systema Naturae 1735 - minerals (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

PARADOXA

On the right of the bird column shown above is a hint of a ‘random’ category. My detailed photo of it didn’t work, so I include a facsimile copy is below. These were creatures that were known of, or believed possibly to exist but for which there was perhaps scant scientific evidence. The hydra. The monocerous. The pelican. The satyr. The borometz (half-sheep, half-plant), phoenix and dragon. And so on. Bearing in mind the date of this work, it is perhaps not surprising that Linnaeus kept his mind and his options open about such creatures. You can read about all these Paradoxa in an excellent Wiki article HERE

Systema Naturae 1735 - paradoxa (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

SYSTEMA NATURAE (1735)

The title page of the first edition of Systema Naturae (1735). This was the first page we were shown, after the book had been laid reverently on a special cushion by the Librarian. I have to admit to a jolt of excitement, both then and indeed several times more during our visit.

Systema Naturae 1735 - title page (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

Published in 1735 when Linnaeus was a mere 28, Systema Naturae was both revolutionary and evolutionary.The full title of the work spelled out the breadth of the enterprise: “System of nature through the three kingdoms of nature, according to classes, orders, genera and species, with characters, differences, synonyms, places”.  At least 12 further editions were published during his lifetime. Each was expanded as more scientific data was gathered; from 11 pages in the 1st edition to more than 2000 in the 12th, published about 30 years later.  Corrections were also made. For example, the initial assignment of whales to fishes, based on knowledge at the time, was later corrected to include them with mammals.

The Taxonomic Hierarchy (+ Setophaga pityophila)Taxonomic Hierarchy ' Olive-capped Warbler (© Tom Sheley / Keith Salvesen)

IN PART 2: THE COLLECTIONS OF LINNAEUS

The extraordinary manuscript, specimen and library collection of Linnaeus is preserved in this wonderful treasure store. I took this photograph at the end of the viewing. By this stage we had examined a selection of the sample cases – note the open drawers and cases on the table. Also, note the special cushion for the precious manuscripts.

Linnaeus Collection, Linnean Society (© KS / Rolling Harbour)

All photographs © Keith Salvesen; portrait and facsimile scan of Paradoxa, O/S; Olive-capped Warbler (as annotated by me), Tom Sheley; magpie pickings from a wide variety of sources inc. Linnean Society, Smithsonian, Encyclopaedia Britannica online – and not excl. Wiki!

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH


Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BAHAMAS REEF FISH (39): YELLOWTAIL DAMSELFISH

Yellowtails are just one of several damselfish species in Bahamas waters. These small fish are conspicuous not just for the bright tails that give them their name. More striking if anything – especially if seen underwater in sunlight against the coral – are the electric blue spots visible in both adults and juveniles.

Yellowtail Damselfish (©Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The body of adults is dark blue to brownish to almost black 

The body of juveniles is blue

Yellowtails are a common and widespread variety of damselfish. They have a limited ability to change colour according to their surroundings, but with their bright tails and luminous blue flecks, it’s hard to see how they can look, to a predator, anything other than a tasty snack.

I have enjoyed seeing these little fish at Fowl Cay Marine Preserve, Abaco. The reef there makes for easy and rewarding snorkelling, with a wide variety of small and medium-size reef fishes to be seen. It’s an expedition I would definitely recommend to anyone wanting to see a healthy and active reef in a completely natural protected area.

I found that a video I took with a tiny camera was sadly of use only to myself. No one else would be able to make anything out due to the marked camera shake. Novices, huh? You are spared that: here’s a brief example of yellowtails swimming instead, showing the difference between juveniles and adults.

Credits: all photos, Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; video from Desert Diving

PIED-BILLED GREBES: LESS COMMON THAN THE LEAST


Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Tom Sheley)

PIED-BILLED GREBES: LESS COMMON THAN THE LEAST

There are two grebe species recorded for Abaco. The LEAST GREBE is the most common; the pied-billed grebe (Podilymbus podiceps) is rarer. These small birds, often called dabchicks, are marsh and pond dwellers. They are sometimes found in brackish or even salt water.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

The pied-billed grebe is somewhat larger than the least grebe. In the breeding season, they have a distinctive black beak-ring. In the header image, the bird is just starting to acquire the ring. Their dark eyes also distinguish them from the golden-eyed least grebe; and their beaks are pale rather than dark.

Least grebe with golden eyes and dark beakLeast Grebe, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Pied-billed Grebe for comparisonPied-billed grebe, Abaco (Linda Barry Cooper)

These birds have lobes on each toe rather than webbed feet. This helps them to paddle and to dive – which is how they mainly forage. They can stay under water for up to half a minute, often surfacing some distance from the entry point. This is one method they use to avoid danger – especially as they don’t fly with much enthusiasm.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (MDF wiki)

Grebes rather endearingly carry their young on their backs until the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves. The main threat to the species is habitat loss, especially of wetlands. The decline in local populations of this once-prolific bird is such that in some places they classified as threatened or endangered.

Pied-billed grebe, Abaco (Dori / wiki)

The pied-billed grebes’ call has been rendered thus: a “whooping kuk-kuk-cow-cow-cow-cowp-cowp.” If that helps you at all. If not, try this clip:

Michel St Martin / Xeno-Canto

Credits: Tom Sheley, Tony Hepburn, Keith Salvesen (least grebe), Linda Barry-Cooper, MDF / wiki, Dori / wiki; Sound file, Xeno-Canto; Cartoon, Birdorable

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO WATERS


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO WATERS

It’s hard to believe that the seas around Abaco and its cays are home to a number of whale species, from huge sperm and humpback whales down to so-called dwarf or pygmy species. In the middle of this range come the beaked whales, the most common being the Blainville’s Beaked Whale. I say ‘most common’, but in fact they are rare in the world, being found in only two other main locations on earth. 

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

These whales are carefully monitored by the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and there is a tagging program to keep track of them. As with dolphins, individuals are identified by markings on the dorsal fin, which vary for each whale. The one above has distinctive scarring at the tip. There are also striations on the body, and conspicuous circular marks that are healed wounds caused by cookie-cutter sharks.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

To the untrained eye, there are no noticeable marks on the dorsal fin of the whale above. However, the whale’s back has a prominent pattern of scarring and healed cookie-cutter wounds. The whale below really looks as though it has been in the wars, with long deep healed wounds behind the head.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

I can’t tell without seeing the head, but I wonder if it is a male and the scars have been caused in a fight with another male – adult males have prominent tusks with which they do battle. Here is an photo that I took from the research boat on a different occasion. The tusks protrude upwards from the lower jaw, and are often covered in barnacles. They are capable of causing serious injury.

Blainville's Beaked Whale male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Blainville’s beaked whales are amongst the deepest divers of all whales. But that and other whale topics will have to wait for another day… My computer malware / virus has been removed professionally with no data loss, and I have some catching up to do. Cost in terms of panic and stress: huge. Cost in real terms: $90.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco (BMMRO)

All photos BMMRO except the tusked male, Keith Salvesen