BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH


Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

 BAHAMAS REEF FISH (36): REEF BUTTERFLYFISH

Butterflyfishes come in several varieties in Bahamian waters; and there are more than 120 species worldwide. Not so long ago I wrote about the LONGSNOUT variety, also known as the “Butterbun”. Now it’s time to take a look at the Reef Butterfyfish.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

In some ways butterflyfishes resemble small angelfishes – adult Reefs are just a few inches long. As the name suggests, these are creatures of the reefs, and of shallow waters. As one might expect, these colourful fish are popular for aquariums (or, strictly I suppose, aquaria). 

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

Butterflyfishes have interesting spawning patterns. They release large numbers of buoyant eggs into the water. These become mixed in with plankton and suchlike, and float where the tides take them until they hatch. Then, most unusually, they go through a larval stage when they are covered by bony material, which they lose as they mature. This is known as an ‘armoured’ stage, which I can only assume is to provide protection to the tiny fry – perhaps by making them crunchy and unappetising. I’ve been trying to find a usable illustrative drawing, without success so far.

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIGRESSION

In some parts of the world the butterflyfish is called a BORBOLETTA, which is Portugese for ‘butterfly’. It is also the title of Santana’s criminally underrated sixth album (1974). For sure it’s no 1st, Abraxas, 3rd or Caravanserai… but if you can tolerate the man’s move to ‘jazz-funk-fusion’ – maybe John McLaughlin had a hand in that – there is much to enjoy. There’s less searing guitar and there’s some strange ‘soundscape’ stuff that’s maybe not to everyone’s taste. But still – it stand up pretty well in comparison with some of the later Carlos creations where a certain tiresomeness began to creep in and some tracks are (IMVHO) not really listenable-to. Anyway, the recently released (2016) Santana IV is a welcome return to the good old days, and the good old team.

Here’s ‘Promise of a Fisherman’ – 8 minutes of  Santana, from which you can judge the direction he’s taken by Album 6…

Reef Butterflyfish, Bahamas - Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba

All photos by Melinda Riger of Grand Bahama Scuba – mainstay, with Adam Rees, of the underwater photos I use, what with me being a feeble swimmer and all. Tip o’ the Hat to Carlos, who I have even managed to see Live a couple of times.

HOOPOES: THE TARGET FOR THE WEEK (NOT ON ABACO!)


Hoopoe Upupa epops -

HOOPOES: THE TARGET FOR THE WEEK (NOT ON ABACO!)

From time to time, wildlife that is completely alien to Abaco, the Bahamas, or even the Americas will slip under the radar and find a place hereabouts. I’m hoping to find one such during the next few days. It is Upupa epops: the Eurasian hoopoe. This wonderful creature is a bird of the warmer areas of Europe and Asia (orange on the map below), and widespread (non-breeding) in areas further south including Africa.

Very occasionally they are found in the south of England, but we are travelling to the Balearics and the hoopoe is merely incidental to the expedition. I’ve seen them in France, Italy, and on Mallorca… and we are in with a good chance of finding one this coming week. So I’d better to remember to have more than iPhone with me…

Hoopoe Upupa epops -

The hoopoe’s most distinctive feature is its extraordinary erectile crest, which creates an impressive fan on top of its head. Then there’s attractive colour scheme. And that long, down-curved, insect-pecking beak. And that unmistakeable call, an onomatopoeic name that really fits the species (cf Whip Poor Will):

Xeno-Canto / Peter Boesman

There is a very real chance of finding and photographing this gorgeous bird, but I appreciate that it’s probably not of sufficient interest Abaco-wise to justify a second post so I’ll probably just put an image on Insta and FB. If any are good enough…

Credits: Artemy Voikhansky, Dûrzan cîrano, David Bottan for uploading the great hoopoe pics (CCL); Xeno-Canto / Peter Boesman; Wik for range map; open source stamp FDC

First day cover from Belarus (one of many countries to issue hoopoe stamps

SCOOP (2): AMAZING BLACK SKIMMERS & CHICKS


Black Skimmers and chicks - Danny Sauvageau

SCOOP (2): AMAZING BLACK SKIMMERS & CHICKS

Last year I posted about an avian scoop, when black skimmers (Rynchops niger) were actually photographed on Abaco. These wonderful birds are classified WR 4 for Abaco, which means uncommon winter residents (ie roughly September until April). Now I look into it further on the indispensable eBird, there are actually quite a few reported sightings most years on Abaco – especially on the Cays. Furthermore the sightings cover most months except midsummer. So maybe they aren’t so rare after all. But I couldn’t track down any workable Abaco skimmer photographs until Charmaine Albury managed to take a few last Autumn, which led to the gift post title SCOOP. Because that is just how they feed. 

Black Skimmer feeding - Danny Sauvageau

Danny Sauvageau is a dedicated birder in Florida, and a brilliant photographer with it. From time to time I feature his work when his camera skills cover a species found on Abaco but for which Abaco images are scarce (or non-existent). All these photographs were recently taken in Pinellas County, Fl., and I’m really grateful to Danny for permission for occasional use of his exceptional photos. 

Black Skimmers - Danny Sauvageau

At the moment, the breeding season is well under way, with the hungry chicks being fed as fast as they can swallow. And this is how that looks, thanks to Danny and his immense talent. 

Black Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny SauvageauBlack Skimmers and chicks - Danny Sauvageau

All photos by © Danny Sauvageau, with thanks

And finally… I’d be really pleased to hear about any Abaco skimmer sightings (and I’ll keep an eye on eBird). Bonus points and a theoretical Kalik for photographs!

Black Skimmers skimming - Danny Sauvageau

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES: MAKING EYE-CONTACT ON ABACO


Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

RED-LEGGED THRUSHES: MAKING EYE-CONTACT ON ABACO

I see it is ‘literally’** years since I last wrote about these lovely, accessible birds, the only permanent resident breeding thrush species on Abaco (out of 8). The post – OL’ RED-EYES IS BACK – featured mainly my own photos, plus one by Mrs RH. With a whole lot of more recent photos, it’s time to revisit these cheery birds. I promised something brighter after two rather sombre shearwater die-off posts – (incidentally, a far wider problem than just in the Bahamas, including NC & Cape May). Here it is.

A RED-LEGGED, RED-EYED GALLERY

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

Many of the birds shown here were photographed in or around the grounds of Delphi. More recently, they have to an extent been displaced by red-winged blackbirds which are of course very fine birds but in large numbers sound (may I say this? Is this just me?) quite irritating after a while. Whereas the thrush of course has a sweet and melodious song, like this (my own recording – turn up the vol):

Mr & Mrs Harbour’s Handiwork at DelphiRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (S Salvesen)

As I may have mentioned before (impatient reader: ‘yes, yes, you did’), the eyes of the RLT are at least as prominent a feature as their legs. Lots of birds have red legs. Very few have such remarkable bright, fiery eye-rings, even in a youngster.

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

Red-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Erik Gauger)

This photo from birdman Tom Sheley is my favourite – a perfect compositionRed-legged Thrush, Abaco, Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

** This means it really is literally years (4), not in the modern modified sense of ‘not actually literally’, as  in “I am literally dying of hunger”. Unless you are exceptionally unfortunate, while you have the breath to say you are, you are literally not doing so…

FUN FACT

There is quite literally no song since 1950 with the word ‘thrush’ in the title. Hard to fathom why… One or two songs have a thrush buried away in the lyrics somewhere. Blackbirds have done rather better in this respect… 

Photo Credits: Tom Sheley (1, 11); Peter Mantle (2, 4); Gerlinde Taurer (3); Mr & Mrs Harbour (5, 6, 7); Charles Skinner (8, 9); Erik Gauger (10). Lo-fi audio recording: RH

SHEARWATER DIE-OFF ON ABACO: UPDATE


Great Shearwater (part of a die-back event on Abaco) - Dick Daniels

SHEARWATER DIE-OFF ON ABACO: UPDATE

A week ago I posted about the reports of dead and dying Audubon’s shearwaters being washed up on various beaches on the Abaco mainland in and around Cherokee Sound and down to Bahama Palm Shores. I included some advice about how to deal with these poor birds. You can find the post HERE.

Piping plover monitor Rhonda Pearce found a couple of struggling shearwaters in the seaAudubon's Shearwater - part of a die-back event on Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

The very next day, reports began to emerge of another species, great shearwaters, being found dead or in a distressed state just off-shore or washed up on beaches. Reports were fewer, but covered a wider area, including a bird in a very poor condition at Delphi. Great shearwaters were the ones involved in the die-back event 2 years ago. 

Audubon's Shearwater - part of a die-back event on Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)

Keith Kemp, who made one of the earlier Audubon shearwater reports, found a young great shearwater in trouble in the sea while he was out in a kayak off Cherokee Point. He rescued it and took all sensible precautions to nourish it and make it comfortable but sadly it did not last the night. He has frozen the bird as a specimen in case analysis will help to explain this die-off event.

Great Shearwater - part of a die-back event on Abaco (Keith Kemp)

As I wrote before, these birds of the open ocean may become weakened and exhausted if fishing conditions become adverse. They will drift weakly with the tide, dying at sea or washing up in a very poor state in the tideline or on beaches.  Their prospects of survival if rescued is sadly very slim – I have not yet heard of a success, though I would love to…

Great Shearwater (part of a die-back event on Abaco) - Dick Daniels

Thankfully, during the past week, reports have gradually diminished. I’ve not seen one for a couple of days. With any luck, the current die-off is now over and will not be repeated for several years. However, another one will certainly happen, I’m afraid – maybe in 5 to 10 years time, the usual gap. Twice in two years has made for very bleak, distressing news.

A more cheerful post will be next, I promise. Meanwhile, any further reports or comments would be welcome.

Photo credits: Dick Daniels (1, 5), Rhonda Pearce (2, 3); Keith Kemp (4)

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)


Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

REDSPOTTED HAWKFISH: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (35)

The redspotted hawkfish (Amblycirrhitus pinos) is one of a number of species of hawkfishes found worldwide. This one is found on the sub-tropical and tropical reefs of the Western Atlantic, and is therefore a fish you might see when out snorkelling or (more likely) scuba-ing in the Bahamas. These are small creatures – adults are unlikely to exceed 4 inches in length.

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

There’s not a whole lot else to report about them. They have no medicinal superpowers, for example, nor wickedly toxic spines. A quick scroll through the highways and byways of the interweb reveals that redspotted hawkfish are considered (rightly, I think) to be attractive, tend to be shy, enjoy perching on coral ledges, and are generally benign, except to smaller fishes to which they may show aggression or – worse – an appetite. 

Redspotted Hawkfish, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)

As you might predict, these pretty little fish are popular in the aquarium trade, where on any view they should be kept safe from predators. But maybe captivity is a little limited in opportunities for travel and exploration. They can be bought for (I just checked) $29.99. Or else left alone on a reef to take their chances.

Photo Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, with thanks as per…

AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER (DUSKY PETREL): SAD NEWS FROM ABACO


Audobon's_Shearwater - Dominic Sherony wiki

AUDUBON’S SHEARWATER (DUSKY PETREL): SAD NEWS FROM ABACO

Just 2 short years ago, Abaco experienced a shearwater die-off event, when during a period of a week or so numerous dead and dying Great Shearwaters were washed up on many of Abaco’s beaches. You can read about it HERE and a follow-up HERE. This map shows the affected area in 2015.

Now comes news of another such sad event, with a large number of Audubon’s shearwaters (Puffinus lherminieri) appearing in the tideline and on beaches at Bahama Palm Shores, Casuarina, Winding Bay and doubtless elsewhere. Many are already dead. Some are still alive, but in a very poor state. 

Audubons Shearwater from Crossley ID Guide (Eastern Birds) - Richard Crossley : Crossley Guides CCL

SHEARWATER DIE-OFF
These upsetting beach finds seem to be a periodic phenomenon, and very likely result from climate conditions or shortage of food out in the ocean – or a combination. Although most will unavoidably have ingested plastics, that would not explain the simultaneous deaths. Poor fishing conditions – they eat fish and squid – will weaken and exhaust the birds as they try to find food. Woody Bracey thinks this the most likely cause, having noticed recent poor deep-sea fishing conditions and an unusual absence of the frigatebirds that are a sure sign of fish.
Pétrel de Barau - wiki .jpg
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The dead birds will be quickly removed by the turkey vultures. If you do find one, you might want to bury it. The prognosis for sick birds, sadly, is not good. They may have been carried a long way from open sea and they will be exhausted and starved. Those that are strong enough may recover naturally; but most will sadly die, being too weak and emaciated to survive. There is no available facility able to deal with a large number of very poorly or dying birds. 
The most practical advice I can give is:
(1) move the bird gently into the shade if in the sun
(2) provide water in a shallow dish
(3) offer finely chopped fish BUT no bread – it’s very bad for birds…
(4) if it seems to be working, then carry on until the bird is strong enough to fly (this may be quite a commitment).
(5) do not reproach yourself if a bird you try to help dies. Many will be in such bad shape by the time they are washed up that they are unlikely to survive whatever steps you take.
 
Audubon's Shearwater Stamp) OS
WHAT DO I LOOK OUT FOR?
This poor shearwater was one of a number of dead birds found by Keith Kemp at Casuarina yesterday. I realise such images can be upsetting, so I am confining photos of the birds to just two so you will recognise one if you see it.
Audubon's Shearwater, Abaco (Keith Kemp)Audubon's Shearwater, Abaco (Keith Kemp)
 AUDUBON’S SHEARWATERS IN AN EGGSHELL
  • Belong to the petrel family
  • Named ‘Puffinus lherminieri’ after French naturalist Felix Louis L’Herminier
  • Also known as the Dusky-backed Shearwater – or by Audubon as the Dusky Petrel
  • Forages by diving out of flight or from the surface; or by surface-feeding
  • Colony breeders, nesting in rock crevices, in burrows, or under thick vegetation
  • Mated pairs spend much time together at nest site. They like rubbing bills together
  • Their ‘twittering calls and mewing’ are usually only heard at night 

Audubon’s ‘Dusky Petrel’

Audubon's Shearwater (Dusky Petrel) - Audubon.org

I’d be interested to hear any other accounts of the current event, especially of any recovery stories. By all means do this as a comment, or email me  / PM on FB

Finally, for those who wonder how pioneer naturalists went about their work observing a species, collecting specimens and recording their findings, here is Audubon’s own account for the ‘Dusky Petrel’, Plate 299 in his magisterial work.

Dusky Petrel (Plate 299)

On the 26th of June, 1826, while becalmed on the Gulf of Mexico, off the western shores of Florida, I observed that the birds of this species, of which some had been seen daily since we left the mouth of the Mississippi, had become very numerous. The mate of the vessel killed four at one shot, and, at my request, brought them on board. From one of them I drew the figure which has been engraved (see above). The notes made at the time are now before me, and afford me the means of presenting you with a short account of the habits of this bird.

They skim very low over the sea in search of the floating bunches of marine plants, usually called the gulf weed, so abundant here as sometimes to occupy a space of half an acre or more. In proceeding, they flap their wings six or seven times in succession, and then sail for three or four seconds with great ease, having their tail much spread, and their long wings extended at right angles with the body. On approaching a mass of weeds, they raise their wings obliquely, drop their legs and feet, run as it were on the water, and at length alight on the sea, where they swim with as much ease as Ducks, and dive freely, at times passing several feet under the surface in pursuit of the fishes, which, on perceiving their enemy, swim off, but are frequently seized with great agility. Four or five, sometimes fifteen or twenty of these birds, will thus alight, and, during their stay about the weeds, dive, flutter, and swim, with all the gaiety of a flock of Ducks newly alighted on a pond. Many Gulls of different kinds hover over the spot, vociferating their anger and disappointment at not being so well qualified for supplying themselves with the same delicate fare. No sooner have all the fishes disappeared than the Petrels rise, disperse, and extend their flight in search of more, returning perhaps in awhile to the same spot. I heard no sound or note from any of them, although many came within twenty yards of the ship and alighted there. Whenever an individual settled in a spot, many others flew up directly and joined it. At times, as if by way of resting themselves, they alighted, swam lightly, and dipped their bills frequently in the water, in the manner of Mergansers.

I preserved the skins of the four specimens procured. One of them I sent to the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, by Captain JOHN R. BUTLER, of the ship Thalia, then bound from Havana to Minorca. Two others were presented to my excellent friend Dr. TRAILL, on my first becoming acquainted with him at Liverpool.

I found the wings of this species strong and muscular for its size, this structure being essentially requisite for birds that traverse such large expanses of water, and are liable to be overtaken by heavy squalls. The stomach resembles a leather purse, four inches in length, and was much distended with fishes of various kinds, partially digested or entire. The oesophagus is capable of being greatly expanded. Some of the fishes were two and a half inches in length, and one in depth. The flesh of this Petrel was fat, but tough, with a strong smell, and unfit for food; for, on tasting it, as is my practice, I found it to resemble that of the porpoises. No difference is perceptible in the sexes.

While on board the United States revenue cutter Marion, and in the waters of the Gulf Stream opposite Cape Florida, I saw a flock of these birds, which, on our sailing among them, would scarcely swim off from our bows, they being apparently gorged with food. As we were running at the rate of about ten knots, we procured none of them. I have also seen this species off Sandy Hook.

Audubon’s Range Map for the species
Audubon's-Shearwater_map (audubon.org)

Credits: thanks to those  on Abaco who have been reporting this sad event over the last few days, and to Woody Bracey for his views; Dominic Sherony (wiki) for the header image; Keith Kemp for photos from Casuarina; Audubon.org for images, quote & range map; Richard Crossley / Crossley Guides for the composite picture; Audubon, wiki and random pickings for info about these birds