SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: AN “IF ONLY” BIRD FOR ABACO


Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

SCISSOR-TAILED FLYCATCHER: AN “IF ONLY” BIRD FOR ABACO

About 3 years ago, there was great excitement when a new bird species was recorded on Abaco. Not just recorded, but actually photographed too – the best of evidence. This was a fork-tailed flycatcher, and to no one’s great surprise another one has never been seen since. So sadly the STFC must go down in the records as a V5, a one-off vagrant. Until another one turns up, anyway. But there will never be another ‘first STFC ever‘ on Abaco. You can read about the new species HERE.

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

The sighting came quite soon after the publication of The Birds of Abaco, and instantly rendered the comprehensive checklist in the book out of date. In all, 6 new bird species have now been sighted on Abaco and in due course I need to amend the checklist to reflect the changes. And add ‘wild turkey’ to the also-ran column ‘Exotics Seen on Abaco.’

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

The scissor-tailed flycatcher is another so-called ‘tyrant flycatcher’ with long streaming tail forks. I had a look at the checklist to see if the species was recorded for Abaco, and sure enough it is included as a V4, which is to say a very rare vagrant with maybe half-a-dozen sightings over the years. I’m not aware of any photos of one taken on Abaco. However, birding and photography authority Danny Sauvageau occasionally encounters these magnificent birds in Florida. His recent photos of the scissor-tailed flycatcher are so beautiful that you just have to see them. How wonderful if this exotic creature could find its way to the northern Bahamas more often. Until it does, it will remain what I term an ‘if only’ bird – one that is regretfully absent…

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher - Danny Sauvageau

All fantastic flycatcher fotos: Danny Sauvageau with many thanks – check online, you won’t see a better collection than this…; cartoon, Bordorable

TURTLE BREEDING SEASON & A SMALL POEM TO PONDER


Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

TURTLE BREEDING SEASON & A SMALL POEM TO PONDER

The turtle lives ‘twixt plated decks
Which practically conceal its sex.
I think it clever of the turtle 
In such a fix, to be so fertile.

Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

Anyone unfamiliar with the works of OGDEN NASH (1902 – 1971) would do well the check out his inimitable poetry, in which he takes extreme liberties with both rhyme and scansion to great comic effect. The poem above is a good example of Nash’s neat way with words. It always makes me laugh, anyway. So simple, looks so easy, but a very difficult trick to pull off consistently as Nash effortlessly does.Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

As the turtle breeding season moves forward, I though this would be a good time to show a few of the great turtle photos taken by Adam Rees of ‘Scuba Works’.Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

Sea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

All photos: Adam Rees / Scuba WorksSea Turtle - Adam Rees / Scuba Works

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS


Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

BAHAMA MOCKINGBIRDS ON ABACO: GOOD IMPRESSIONS

The Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii is similar to its slightly smaller cousin, the widespread Northern Mockingbird Mimus polyglottis. The range of Bahama Mockingbirds is not restricted to the Bahamas themselves, and includes areas of  Cuba, Jamaica and TCI, so despite the name they are not an endemic species to the Bahamas.  They are also occasional vagrants to the United States, especially – for reasons of proximity – southeastern Florida.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle

The Bahama Mockingbird is browner than the greyish Northern Mockingbird, and has distinctive streaking and spotting to its breast and undercarriage. This may extend to what you might describe as the bird’s ‘trouser legs’, though I’m sure there’s a more technically correct term.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Charlie Skinner

Both mockingbird species are found on Abaco. The NMs are ubiquitous in towns, settlements, gardens, coppice and pine forest, whereas BMs are shyer and tend to be found in the pine forest and well away from humans and their operations. When we were putting together The Birds of Abaco, I went on a birding trip with Abaco birding legend Woody Bracey and Ohio bird photographer Tom Sheley. We took a truck into the pine forest down a logging track south of Delphi, and they were quick to locate a bird, not least because one was sitting prettily on a branch singing lustily and unmistakably. It was well within range of Tom’s massive lens; more of a struggle for my modest camera (below). Caught the cobwebs, though…

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

I was astounded by the beauty and variety of the song. It consisted of very varied notes and phrases, each repeated 3 or 4 times before moving on to the next sounds in the repertoire. Here is a short 18 second example I recorded, using my unpatented iPhone method, for which see HERE.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Alex Hughes

For those with interest in birdsong, here is a longer 1:13 minute song from the same bird, with largely different sounds from the first recording made minutes earlier. There’s even a decent stab at imitation of a 1960s Trimphone™. Had we not had to move on to Sandy Point for an appointment with some cattle egrets and American kestrels, I could have stayed listening for far longer.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Tom Sheley

THE ‘SUBSPECIES’ THAT WASN’T…

More recently, on a trip in backcountry to find Kirtland’s warblers – we saw 4 – the slow-moving truck jolted to halt in the middle of nowhere. This was because a Bahama Mockingbird was right by the track. I fired off some quick shots out of the window into a rather difficult light, to find that we appeared to have found a new subspecies, the scarlet-faced mockingbird.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

The reason was clear, however. The bird had been pigging out on some red berries, and had managed to collect plenty of the juice round the base of its beak. Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Keith Salvesen

SO WHAT DOES A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD LOOK LIKE, THEN?

I photographed the Northern Mockingbird below in a garden at Casuarina. The species is far tamer than its cousin, and seen side-by-side they are clearly very different. The range maps show the stark contrast between the very limited range of the Bahama Mockingbird and the vast distribution of the Northern Mockingbird.

220px-Northern_Mockingbird-rangemap

Northern Mockingbird, Abaco 1

Photos Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 6); Peter Mantle (2); Charlie Skinner (3); Keith Salvesen (4, 7, 8, 9); Alex Hughes (5); Susan Daughtrey (10). Range maps eBird & wiki.

Bahama Mockingbird, Abaco - Susan Daughtry

OCTOPUSES: WORTH LEARNING TO SCUBA FOR?


Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

OCTOPUSES: WORTH LEARNING TO SCUBA FOR?

If I had to give a single reason for learning to scuba, watching an octopus would be very near the top of a long list. It’s never going to happen for me, of course – I have about 17 excuses lined up just in case anyone should ask me to try it. But still. One can dream…

Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

Meanwhile, I can luckily rely on an experienced professional to get the shots. Here are a few great octopus photos taken by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba – perfect examples of an excellent reason for chucking aside the snorkel and doing something a bit more adventurous. Maybe…

Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

RELATED OCTOPUS POST

THE CORRECT PLURAL Learn 12 essential octopus facts plus the definitively correct plural of the word ‘octopus’ (out of 3 rival options). Please note that the possibilities do not include ‘octopodices’, which would be latin for ‘eight rumps’ (or ‘asses’, as you might say), if such weird creatures existed.

Octopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba

 

REMEOctopus - Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama ScubaMBER – KEEP AN EYE OUT…

 

STARR-STUDDED MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Does Ringo still have it? Did he ever have it?

CHEROKEE SHELL MUSEUM, ABACO: “GIFTS FROM THE SEA”


Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

CHEROKEE SHELL MUSEUM, ABACO: “GIFTS FROM THE SEA”

One of the smallest museums in the world has just opened on April 15 in the picturesque settlement of Cherokee on Abaco, Bahamas. Other contenders for the title include the MmuseumM in New York, housed in an elevator shaft (look through glass window + audio guide); a converted red telephone kiosk in Warley, Yorkshire UK dedicated to local history (one visitor at a time); and a tiny shed of 134 sq ft in Arizona featuring what might broadly be called ‘ephemera’, including a Beatles poster…

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Abaconian

Whatever the size comparisons, the new shell museum is beyond doubt the very best one in the Bahamas, not least because it is the only one. “Gifts from the Sea” is housed in the former 1950s telegraph office that ceased to operate in 1987 and had fallen into disrepair. Leased from BTC for a nominal rent, the little building was restored, and given a smart new roof and a complete makeover. The new museum provides the perfect space for displaying a selection of the wonderful shells to be found in Abaco waters.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The whole community has got behind this project, which is the vision and creation of Curator Lee Pinder. Derek Weatherford fitted cabinets for the exhibits, and artist Jo-Ann Bradley has painted a fabulous interior Cherokee-themed mural as a fitting backdrop to the displays.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The exhibition shows more than 200 shells, each catalogued with its Latin and common name, and clearly labelled in the display. Most were found locally; a few are from further afield. Some specimens are very rare. It is hoped to expand the collection as people make shell donations to the museum. 

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Abaconian

The building has a door at each end to give natural light and provide a ‘walk-through’ arrangement, which will make viewing in the confined space easier. Entry is free but there’s a glass jar for donations towards the upkeep of the museum. I’m guessing here, but I reckon donations that are made ‘outside the jar’ (so to speak) are very welcome too…

Museum Curator Lee PinderCherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The opening ceremony took place on Easter Saturday, when Cherokee resident Rev. Bateman Sands performed the official ribbon cutting ceremony preceded by a prayer at precisely 12 noon. As Jennifer Hudson in an Abaconian article points out, he was the ideal person for the task, having been “the first telegraph operator in Cherokee Sound, working in the little building using Morse code and in charge of the one and only telephone in the settlement until 1987 when the new BTC building was opened”.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

The shell museum is not left open all the time, but visitors are welcomed and private tours can be arranged by calling 475-7868.

Cherokee Shell Museum, Abaco Bahamas / Gifts from the Sea / Cinder Pinder

To see a selection of the many types of Abaco shells, check out my shell page HERE

Sources and Credits: Bradley Albury / Jennifer Hudson / Abaconian; Cindy James Pinder for her great photos

Sand dollar, Abaco (Rolling Harbour)

BLUE TANG AS REEF FILM STAR


Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

BLUE TANG AS REEF FILM STAR

Last summer, the big motion picture sensation for the bird world was, of course, Pixar’s ineffably adorable creation, Piper – the ultimate ‘Chick Flick’. This little ball of cartoon fluff was not, as some thought, based on a piping plover but on a sanderling – a type of sandpiper (clue in name). This 6 minute ‘short’ preceded the main event, the hugely popular Finding Dory. You can read all about the film Piper and the birding aspects of the film HERE

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Finding Dory is not about a fish of the dory species, of course. Voiced by Ellen DeGeneres, Dory is in fact a species of surgeonfish Paracanthurus, the familiar blue tang found on the reefs of the Bahamas. To see these fish in Abaco waters, Fowl Cays National Park is always a good bet.

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Dory can be identified as a maturing juvenile: blue, with a yellow tail. In due course – in time for the sequel film – she will become blue all over, with perhaps the odd flash of yellow (see photos above).

In real life, a baby blue tang is in fact entirely yellow, except for blue rings around the eyes. In Pixarland, however, Dory is just an adorbs miniature version of her youthful self.

Blue Tang juvenile, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Blue Tang are lovely to watch as they cruise round the reefs, sometimes in large groups. Their colouring ranges from pale to dark blue. However, these are fish that are best looked at and not touched – their caudal spines are very sharp. When the fish feels in threatened, the spine is raised and can cause deep cuts, with a risk of infection.  

Still from a crummy video taken at Fowl Cays some years back to illustrate a group of blue tangBlue Tangs, Fowl Cays Nature Park, Abaco Bahamas (KS)

Blue tangs are inedible, they apparently smell unpleasant, and they can cause ciguatera. However they are popular in the aquarium trade. This is a distinct downside of highly successful films such as Finding Nemo and Finding Dory. In defiance of the well-meant and broadly ecological message of both films, the trade in clown fish and to a lesser extent blue tang was boosted by their on-screen portrayal as adorbs creatures desirable for the entertainment of mankind… ‘Nuff said.

Blue Tang, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Credits: All excellent photos by Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba; one pathetically bad still from a low res video, me; cartoons purloined from an online aquarium somewhere or other

FLAMINGO BREEDING SEASON ON INAGUA, BAHAMAS


Flamingo feeding chick, Inagua National Park (Casper Burrows / BNT)

FLAMINGO BREEDING SEASON ON INAGUA, BAHAMAS

The national bird of the Bahamas, featured in the nation’s Coat of Arms, was once a familiar sight in the Bahamas, but sadly no more. On Abaco they are no longer seen, apart from occasional vagrant birds that stay for a few weeks and then disappear. 

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / Lynn Gape / BNT)

An attempt in the 1990s to reintroduce flamingos on Abaco and to establish a breeding population failed. You can read more about the history of the ‘fillymingo’ on Abaco HERE.

Flamingos & chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / BNT)

Nowadays, the flamingos breed only on Inagua, and to see these gorgeous birds you will have to go to the INAGUA NATIONAL PARK , where you will find the world’s largest West Indian flamingo colony.  

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / Lynn Gape / BNT)

The breeding season is now under way, with large numbers of fluffy gray chicks finding their legs in the lagoons. A team from the BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST is working with them at the moment.

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / Lynn Gape / BNT)

The team have with them the distinguished wildlife photographer MELISSA GROO, whose wonderful award-winning work will be known to anyone with a keen interest in wildlife. If you want to see wild birds and wild animals as you may never have seen them portrayed before, do visit Melissa’s superb website by clicking her name link above.

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / BNT)

Credits: Melissa Groo, with thanks as ever for use permission [please note that her images are subject to her professional copyright]; BNT, especeially Lynn Gape & Casper Burrows (header image)

Flamingo chicks, Inagua National Park (Melissa Groo / BNT)