OSPREY ID GUIDE: THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES REVISITED


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

OSPREY ID GUIDE: THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES REVISITED

I am reposting this article in the wake of a recent Bird Club of New Providence bird of prey ID query featuring distant but still helpful photos that enabled the ID as an osprey. As far as I can tell from the visible evidence (the images pixellate when enlarged) this is the ‘local’ Bahamian subspecies that differs in subtle ways from the standard North American version. Both types are found in the northern Bahamas; it would definitely be a great ‘get’ to locate one of each on the same day…

I sometimes feature bird comparatives, not least because there is so much scope for confusion that I have to keep checking for myself. Tyrant flycatchers; a number of superficially similar warbler species (all with yellow bits); those vireos; all those heron-y / egret-y types and their disconcerting morphs (hello, white reddish egret).

Osprey P.h.carolinensis (CWFNJ)

And so to the magnificent osprey Pandion haliaetus. This time, the comparison is between two subspecies, broadly the North American P. h. carolinensis and the Caribbean P.h. ridgwayi. There is some overlap in Florida, and some evidence of interbreeding. In the northern Bahamas in particular there is also an overlap, so an osprey seen on Abaco could be either variety. You’ll probably be too excited watching it to care much which type it is, but this article will help you if you do…

The two ospreys shown below were recently photographed at Spanish Wells, Eleuthera by Barbara Crouchley. This is a ‘bingo’ photographic scoop, because each type of bird was found in the same region; now we can check out the differences between the two birds. 

The first is a North American bird. Note in particular its distinctive eye mask, and the clearly marked upper breast, more so in the female than the male (which may even be white). The overall impression of the upper-parts is dark brown. They are slightly larger than their cousins in the south.

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. carolinensis

In this Caribbean bird with its trophy fish, the eye-mask is absent, and the facial / nape markings are less pronounced. Furthermore, the breast and under-parts are white in both sexes (though slight marking may be apparent in some birds). And  the impression is of lighter upper-parts, even allowing for variable lighting and distance when the photos were taken. Conveniently, there’s not much detectable difference between male and females in the respective populations.

Osprey P.h. Ridgwayi, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi

EXAMPLES OF P. h. carolinensis

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

EXAMPLES OF P. h. ridgwayi

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry Cooper)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Jim Todd)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

I’m going to stick my neck out here – I’ve not seen this mentioned anywhere, and I need to do some more comparative research. When I saw Barbara’s pair of photos, I immediately noticed that the eyes of the P.h.r were paler than the bright orangey-yellow of P.h.c. This distinction carries on through the comparative photos above: the P.h.cs were photographed in Florida and further north and have strikingly vivid eyes. The P.h.rs were photographed on Abaco and Grand Bahama at different times by different people. All have noticeably paler irises, more a light greeny-yellow. 

I’d welcome any views on this rash amateur theory. Preferably supportive ones…

UNDERWING DIFFERENCES

There’s a further comparison that can be made with the two subspecies in flight. Without going into technical and linguistic detail, the underwings of the P.h.cs are much darker than the Bahamas birds, whereas P.h.rs are notably paler and in some cases mostly white.  As an example, below is a distance shot I took when bonefishing out on the Abaco Marls, using a pocket camera. This is definitely a local bird! Compare with the dramatic image below it, where the strong darker markings are all too evident. It’s a great shot with which to bring the lesson to an end.

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Osprey in flight with fish (Northside Jim)

Photo credits: Tom Sheley (1); CWFNJ (2); Barbara Crouchley (3, 4); Danny Sauvageau (5, 6, 7); Jim Todd (8); Linda Barry Cooper (9); Woody Bracey (10); Keith Salvesen (11); the inimitable Northside Jim (12); Cute-toon, Birdorable. Thanks for all use permissions – also to Steve Connett for the idea!

OSPREYS: ID GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES


Osprey, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

OSPREYS: ID GUIDE TO THE BAHAMAS SUBSPECIES

I sometimes feature bird comparatives, not least because there is so much scope for confusion that I have to keep checking for myself. Tyrant flycatchers; a number of superficially similar warbler species (all with yellow bits); those vireos; all those heron-y / egret-y types and their disconcerting morphs (hello, white reddish egret).

Osprey P.h.carolinensis (CWFNJ)

And so to the magnificent osprey Pandion haliaetus. This time, the comparison is between two subspecies, broadly the North American P. h. carolinensis and the Caribbean P.h. ridgwayi. There is some overlap in Florida, and some evidence of interbreeding. In the northern Bahamas in particular there is also an overlap, so an osprey seen on Abaco could be either variety. You’ll probably be too excited watching it to care much which type it is, but this article will help you if you do…

The two ospreys shown below were recently photographed at Spanish Wells, Eleuthera by Barbara Crouchley. This is a ‘bingo’ photographic scoop, because each type of bird was found in the same region; now we can check out the differences between the two birds. 

The first is a North American bird. Note in particular its distinctive eye mask, and the clearly marked upper breast, more so in the female than the male (which may even be white). The overall impression of the upper-parts is dark brown. They are slightly larger than their cousins in the south.

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. carolinensis

In this Caribbean bird with its trophy fish, the eye-mask is absent, and the facial / nape markings are less pronounced. Furthermore, the breast and under-parts are white in both sexes (though slight marking may be apparent in some birds). And  the impression is of lighter upper-parts, even allowing for variable lighting and distance when the photos were taken. Conveniently, there’s not much detectable difference between male and females in the respective populations.

Osprey P.h. Ridgwayi, Eleuthera Bahama (Barbara Crouchley)

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi

EXAMPLES OF P. h. carolinensis

Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)Osprey P.h. Carolinensis, Florida (Danny Sauvageau)

EXAMPLES OF P. h. ridgwayi

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Grand Bahama (Linda Barry Cooper)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Jim Todd)Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

I’m going to stick my neck out here – I’ve not seen this mentioned anywhere, and I need to do some more comparative research. When I saw Barbara’s pair of photos, I immediately noticed that the eyes of the P.h.r were paler than the bright orangey-yellow of P.h.c. This distinction carries on through the comparative photos above: the P.h.cs were photographed in Florida and further north and have strikingly vivid eyes. The P.h.rs were photographed on Abaco and Grand Bahama at different times by different people. All have noticeably paler irises, more a light greeny-yellow. 

I’d welcome any views on this rash amateur theory. Preferably supportive ones…

UNDERWING DIFFERENCES

There’s a further comparison that can be made with the two subspecies in flight. Without going into technical and linguistic detail, the underwings of the P.h.cs are much darker than the Bahamas birds, whereas P.h.rs are notably paler and in some cases mostly white.  As an example, below is a distance shot I took when bonefishing out on the Abaco Marls, using a pocket camera. This is definitely a local bird! Compare with the dramatic image below it, where the strong darker markings are all too evident. It’s a great shot with which to bring the lesson to an end.

Osprey P.h. ridgwayi, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Osprey in flight with fish (Northside Jim)

Photo credits: Tom Sheley (1); CWFNJ (2); Barbara Crouchley (3, 4); Danny Sauvageau (5, 6, 7); Jim Todd (8); Linda Barry Cooper (9); Woody Bracey (10); Keith Salvesen (11); the inimitable Northside Jim (12). Thanks for all use permissions – also to Steve Connett for the idea!

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (41)


Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

SOUTHERN STINGRAYS: BAHAMAS REEF FISH (41)

Anyone who has scuba-dived or snorkelled around the bright coral reefs of the Bahamas, or hunted bonefish out on the Abaco Marls will have come across Southern Stingrays Dasyatis americana. And there are certain places (eg Manjack Cay) where you can actually feed them – and not come to any harm

Southern Stingrays, Manjack Cay, Bahamas (Samantha Regan)

FEED THEM? AREN’T THESE GUYS LETHALLY DANGEROUS CREATURES?

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The name that always comes to mind in connection with stingrays is poor Steve Irwin, the charismatic Australian wildlife expert who was tragically ‘stung’ over his heart as he swam close over a ray while filming underwater. But this was, it would appear, a dreadful combination of circumstances with a terrible outcome.

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

The ray’s stinger is in fact an erectile venomous barbed spine near the base of the tail and not on the end of it (as one might expect). But these creatures are not out to harm you – though of course when you are in their environment you should accord them the respect that they merit.

Southern Stingray (Tomas Willams, wiki)

If you are walking / wading in the water, avoid the risk of accidentally treading on a ray. Best to shuffle your feet forward in the sand; if there’s a half-concealed ray feeding or resting on the bottom nearby, it will swim away peacefully. I took the photo below while bonefishing on the Marls; the ray directly ahead slowly makes off as the skiff drifts closer. The next one is of a ray with its young – completely aware of us as we glide past to one side, but not especially bothered.

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Southern Stingray adult and young, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)

If you are swimming, snorkelling or diving, don’t get too close – especially by swimming directly over a ray (apparently Steve Irwin’s mistake, so that he was struck right in the chest by the stinger when the ray reacted).

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Enough of the potential dangers. The southern stingray is a magnificent creature, as Melinda’s wonderful photographs show. She spends half her life underwater and I’m not aware that she has had a problem with a ray. 

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Like many larger sea creatures, stingrays need help with their personal care – the removal of parasites, dead skin and so forth. And so they make use of the services offered by small fish like gobies, wrasses and shrimps at a CLEANING STATION. Here are 2 photos of rays doing just that. You can see the tiny fish by the reef, going about their work. There’s a mutual benefit in this symbiotic relationship, in which it is understood that the cleaners are unharmed. Indeed, they will often enter the mouths and gills of a fish to clean… including the teeth. So there’s dental hygiene on offer too…

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

Southern Stingrays, Bahamas (Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba)

RELATED POSTS

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GRACE WITH ATTITUDE

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Photo Credits: Melinda Riger / Grand Bahama Scuba, except for the feeding photo (cheers, Samantha Regan), the ‘specimen’ from Tomas Willems (Wiki) and my two noted above

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Delphi, Abaco (Craig Nash)

“HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU”: DO SOMETHING GREEN!

Today is the 46th Earth Day, a global event to encourage ecology and conservation, and to discourage the spoiling of the planet by mankind. What becomes lost now may never be retrieved. Plant a tree. Grow some bee- or butterfly-friendly flowers. Clear a patch of beach of plastic trash. Recycle stuff. That sort of thing. 

Atala Hairstreak Eumaeus atala – DelphiAtala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Gulf Fritillary Agraulis vanillae – Neem FarmGulf Fritillary, Neem Farm, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I’d lined up some horror-images of plastic-filled birds, entangled turtles, damaged reefs and so forth, of which I have a depressingly large archive. Then, in a spirit of *vogue word alert* positivity I scrapped that miserable idea and decided instead to celebrate some of the natural wonders that can be found on Abaco. 

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT – one of Abaco’s 5 ENDEMIC BIRDSBahamas-Great Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer

CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD (f) preening – Gilpin PointCuban Emerald Hummingbird preening, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Some signal species serve as a continuing tribute to those who work to conserve them. The gorgeous ABACO PARROTS, now saved from the brink of extinction – and currently establishing a new colony on New Providence. The rare PIPING PLOVERS that find a safe home to spend their winters on Abaco’s beaches. The 5 ENDEMIC BIRD species. The WHALES & DOLPHINS that populate the waters. The west-indian MANATEES, until very recently almost unknown for Abaco yet now providing a curious addition to the scene as they visit their favourite haunts.

BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALE (m) approaching the BMMRO research vesselBlainville's Beaked Whale, Sandy Point, Abaco 14 (Keith Salvesen

BOTTLENOSE DOLHIN, Sandy Point (about to dive under the boat)Bottlenose Dolphins, Rocky Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen : BMMRO) 7

Habitat protection has been provided over substantial areas on both land and sea by the creation of natural parks and preserves. These have very recently been extended by the establishment of 4 large PROTECTED AREAS for East Abaco Creeks, Cross Harbour, the Marls and the South Abaco Blue Holes, a wonderful reward for a great deal of hard lobbying by conservation organisations and by many concerned individuals. 

QUEEN ANGELFISHQueen Angelfish ©Melinda Stevens Riger / G B Scuba

BANDED CORAL SHRIMPBanded Coral Shrimp ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy 2

Scientific research and conservation work is continuously carried out in Abaco waters. The CORAL REEFS that form the 3rd largest barrier reef in the world; the BLUE HOLES that lead to wonderful caves and cathedral caverns of crystal; the vast area of the MARLS and the species that rely on the mangrove swamps; the MANGROVES themselves: all these are watched over and monitored for ways to protect them best for future generations. 

PIPING PLOVER pair, Delphi (taken last month)Piping Plover pair, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

PIPING PLOVER on AbacoPiping Plover, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

I’ve mentioned trees and plants. There are a variety of well-known sources for both on Abaco – on the mainland, anyway, and maybe some cays. Any will advise on bee and butterfly attractants. Thinking of which, bird seed feeders and hummer sugar water feeders are cheap and guarantee the interest of garden and coppice birds, and during the winter months some brightly coloured migrants such as buntings and grosbeaks. 

HIBISCUS – DelphiHibiscus, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

 BOUGAINVILLEA  – DelphiBougainvillea, Delphi, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Bird of Paradise flower STRELITZIA – Marsh Harbour (seemingly on a steep slope!)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

HAPPY EARTH DAY TO YOU!

RALPH’S CAVE South AbacoRalph's Cave, Abaco (Brian Kakuk)

Credits: all images RH except: Abaco parrot, Craig Nash; Bahama yellowthroat, Gerlinde Taurer; Angelfish & Shrimp, Melinda Riger; single piping plover, Bruce Hallett; Ralph’s Cave, Brian Kakuk

MANGROVE DIE-BACK IN THE ABACO MARLS: THE FACTS


Mangroves, The Marls, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour)

MANGROVE DIE-BACK IN THE ABACO MARLS: THE FACTS

For some time now, there has been understandable concern about the increasing evidence of mangrove die-back in the Abaco Marls and elsewhere in Abaco waters. Scientific investigations are ongoing and you will find some of the survey results so far on the excellent Abaco Scientist interactive map HERE. You’ll find other relevant and authoritative mangrove material if you check out the BLOG menu of the website.
Abaco - The Marls

The ‘200 sq. miles’ in my map is debatable, depending what one includes. Other estimates are of 300 or even 400 sq. miles. Whichever, the Marls cover a massive area of mangroves, islets, flats, channels and wonderfully diverse wildlife. A large proportion of the many species – fish, birds, turtles etc – depend on the complex ecology of the mangroves for food, shelter and breeding. Depletion of the mangroves from whatever cause will have a direct effect on the creatures of the Marls.

Stingrays Abaco Marls 6

Ryann Rossi, a PhD student with North Carolina State University, has been researching the worrying phenomenon of mangrove die-back in the Marls this summer. She has written an interesting and informative  account (conveniently in the RH ‘Facts about…’ style) that was published in Abaco Scientist last week. The blue links will take you to the ABSCI site for further information on each topic. I’m grateful to Ryann and ABSCI for permission to use the material.

Five Things to Know About the Mangrove Die-back in The Marls (at this point, anyway)

1. This die-back appears to be the result of multiple stressors acting together. Think of it in the sense of our own body – when our immune system is down, we are often more susceptible to getting sick. The same thing is likely happening to the mangroves.Mangrove Die-back 1 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi)

2. It appears as though a fungal disease may be taking advantage of already stressed mangroves and causing die-back. We did preliminary surveys across Abaco and found fungal lesions nearly everywhere. However, the fungus was present in different densities in different areas. In the die-back area nearly all the leaves remaining on trees have lesions. We think that this pathogen capitalized on the mangroves being weakened by other stressors such as hurricanes, which cause extensive leaf drop, change in the movement of water, change in sedimentation and erosion.

Mangrove Die-back 2 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

3. We are still working on identifying the pathogen associated with the lesions we’ve found. We are confident that it is a fungus and are currently growing fungal cultures in the lab to examine defining morphological characteristics in addition to using DNA sequencing to identify the culprit.

4. We have documented the presence of the Robust Bush Cricket (Tafalisca eleuthera) in the die-back areas as well as other areas with high densities of lesions. These crickets are documented to consume Red and White mangrove leaves. As such, we were concerned about their potential role in die-back. We set out a caging experiment to exclude the crickets from certain dwarf Red mangrove trees to see just how much grazing they may be doing in the die-back area. This experiment is ongoing.

Mangrove Die-back 3 (Abaco Scientist : Ryann Rossi) jpg

5. The take home: there is likely more than one causal agent of the die-back in The Marls. Many factors govern mangrove productivity and functioning: nutrient availability, salinity, sedimentation rate, herbivory, and disease are just a few of the factors that contribute to overall mangrove function making it very difficult to pin point which factors may be driving the die-off. On the bright side, we are confident that we have a lead on the causes and we are working hard in the field and laboratory to fully understand what is going on in The Marls.

By Ryann Rossi|August 26th, 2015|Disease, fungus, Insects, Mangroves and Creeks, The Marls
All pics below taken while fishing on the Marls except Melinda’s shark (I’ve never got a good one)
Hawksbill Turtle, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)Bonefish Abaco Marls 4Shark 4 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyOsprey - Abaco Marls 1 Reddish Egret (White Morph), Abaco MarlsRoyal Tern, Abaco, Bahamas (Marls) 3Willet, The Marls, AbacoSouthern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has also included an article on die-back by Ryann in its latest Newsletter:

Mangrove Die Off on Abaco by Ryann Rossi, NCSU

This summer Stephanie Archer and I continued research efforts focused on determining the cause of the mangrove die-off in The Marls (work funded by the National Science Foundation). Our efforts were predominantly focused on the fungal pathogen we found associated with the die-off site. We created a small citizen science and outreach project to document the presence or absence of the pathogen across Abaco. This project consisted of short surveys and leaf collections. In total, 92 areas were surveyed including locations from Abaco and San Salvador. We also took this outreach project to the annual Bahamas Reef Environment Education Foundation (BREEF) teacher training conference.  There we disseminated survey packets to teachers from islands throughout The Bahamas who will help us collect more data on the presence (or absence) of this pathogen on other Islands.

3 men on a skiff, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen : Rolling Harbour)

Three men on a skiff – Abaco Marls

On Abaco, we constructed an experiment to investigate the role of grazing and the presence of fungal lesions on Red mangroves. We simulated grazing using crafting scissors to cut small sections on 600 leaves in 4 different mangrove creeks. We observed the leaves for 28 days to determine if cutting leaves predisposed leaves to fungal infection. At these sites we also trapped for insects to gain an idea of what kind of grazers may be chewing on the leaves. We also did a series of disease incidence surveys that will be routinely monitored for disease progress over the next 2 years. These surveys will allow us to systematically track the progress of the disease. In addition to our field work, we spent many hours in the laboratory isolating fungi from leaves to grow in culture. These cultures were brought back to North Carolina State University and will be sequenced in order to help us identify the fungal pathogen responsible for making the lesions on the mangrove leaves.

Mangroves, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Source material Ryann Rossi; Abaco Scientist; all photos © Keith Salvesen @ Rolling Harbour except those by Ryann / ABSCI in the main article and Melinda Riger’s cool shark

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS


Southern Stingray 2 ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copy

GRACE WITH ATTITUDE: SOUTHERN STINGRAYS IN THE BAHAMAS

Southern Stingrays are often seen in Abaco waters. In the bay of Rolling Harbour at Delphi, we sometimes watch them admiringly from the balcony or beach as they lazily cruise along the shoreline in the turquoise water. If someone is in the water, they will make a leisurely detour round them – unfrightened in their own element, but unthreatening and disinclined to investigate human intrusion. Diving with them is a wonderful experience (though I have never got very close). Melinda Riger – a scuba expert with great camera skills – takes the most beautiful photos of the stingrays she encounters. Here are a few that I haven’t yet featured.  Notice the little striped CLEANING GOBIES going about their business. 

Stingray, Southern with cleaning gobies ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba copyStingray, Southern at cleaning station ©Melinda Riger @ G B Scuba  copySouthern Stingray © Melinda Riger @GB Scuba copy

Southern Stingrays are often encountered when one is bonefishing in the low waters of the Marls. I took the photos below while we were fishing in a channel between areas of mangrove. As the skiff was poled very slowly forward, I saw the stingray coming straight towards us. I wondered how it would react. Very elegantly, was the answer. It turned effortlessly and unperturbed to one side, then resumed its original course leaving a clump of mangrove between it and the skiff. 

Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 1)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 2)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 3)Southern Stingray, Abaco Marls (Keith Salvesen 4)

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Credits: Melinda Riger, Grand Bahama Scuba; RH

SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!


Pristis_pectinata _Georgia_Aquarium_ Diliff Wiki

SAW FISH IN THE ABACO MARLS? NO SURPRISE. SAW A SAWFISH? AWESOME!

Exactly a year ago, an extraordinary find was made out on the Abaco Marls. Almost disguised against the pale mud under the low water was the first sawfish reported for the Marls. This fish is not merely a rarity in the Northern Bahamas: all species of sawfishes worldwide are IUCN listed as Endangered or Critically Endangered.

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Sawfish, Abaco Marls Feb 2014 (Photo: Jacque Cannon)

Here is an account of the discovery reported by FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT: “On a recent fishing trip in the Marls with local guide Justin Sands, Sam and Jacque Cannon had an exciting encounter. As Justin was poling the flats, with Sam on the bow searching for bonefish, Jacque spotted a Sawfish! Jacque and Justin quickly forgot about Sam and his efforts to catch a bonefish and turned their focus to the Sawfish. This is a very rare sighting and one we are happy there was a camera available to document it…” A couple of weeks later I was lucky enough to sit next to Jacque at dinner at the Delphi Club, so I was able to hear at first hand the story of this amazing find. It also turned out to be the perfect time to sign an early copy of “The Birds of Abaco” for Jacque and Sam… 1900063_10152069487394482_984358031_n

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

Sawfish Book Plate (1884)

 10 ESSENTIAL SAWFISH FACTS

  • Sawfishes are also known as Carpenter Sharks; their ‘saw’ is called a ROSTRUM
  • There are 7 species in oceans and seas worldwide, including the Mediterranean
  • All populations have declined drastically due to habitat loss, overfishing & pollution
  • The rostrum is used to feel, to dig, to slash & impale or stun its prey, and for defence
  • Sawfishes are nocturnal creatures and spend a lot of time face down on the sea floor
  • Like sharks, their skeleton is made of cartilage and not bone.
  • Some species can grow up to 7m long
  • They are generally unaggressive unless provoked but fight strongly when caught
  • Sawfishes are slow breeders, making population recovery more difficult
  • Babies are called ‘pups’. Their rostrum is flexible and sheathed until after birth
Sawfish seen from Underwater Tunnel - Atlantis, Nassau Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Sawfish seen from below – Atlantis, Nassau, Bahamas (Fred Hsu)

Other sawfish have been seen recently in the Northern Bahamas, though not in Abaco waters. Last summer the Bahamas National Trust posted 2 great images of a Smalltooth Sawfish, saying “BNT was excited to receive these photographs of a Smalltooth Sawfish photographed in the proposed East Grand Bahama National Park – Bersus Cay Area. The sawfish was 12 to 13 feet long and was seen in water that was 2 -3 feet deep. Thank you to Buzz Cox, Island Manager at Deep water Cay for sending us these photos”. Sawfish, Grand Bahama Sawfish, Grand Bahama

CONSERVATION ISSUES

POPULATION DECLINE As noted above, Sawfish populations have declined to less than 10% of historical levels. The Smalltooth Sawfish – seen above – was once prolific in the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, Mediterranean, Black Sea and Indo-Pacific. Population numbers of this species are now estimated at less than 5% to perhaps as low as 1% of their historic levels.

THREAT TO SURVIVAL The threats to their existence are many: habitat loss, overfishing, accidental bycatch, rostrum souvenir hunters (good prices can be obtained), taking them for fins (as a delicacy) or oil from their liver (medicinal).

LEGAL PROTECTION Capturing a sawfish is illegal in certain countries, including the United States. The sale of smalltooth sawfish rostra is prohibited in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.  The import for sale of that of any sawfish species is also prohibited. The international trade of sawfish was banned by the CITES convention in June 2007.
For those that want to find out  a bit more detail about these issues, there’s plenty on interesting information in a scientific (but readable) paper from NOAA – click the link below

A very recent Bahamas smalltooth sawfish sighting on Bimini – Jan 2015Pristis_pectinata_(smalltooth_sawfish)_(Bimini,_western_Bahamas) Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015 Wiki

Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata) Bimini, Bahamas – Lee & Mary Ellen St John Jan 2015

Time for some footage of these rare and wonderful creatures in the Bahamas. The first is from John Flanagan and was taken during a dive off Bimini in early 2014. He was so surprised by the sight that he nearly forgot to turn on his camera to take a short video… The second is a longer 5 min video taken off Andros by Grant Johnson of “wild footage of the critically endangered Smalltooth Sawfish (Pristis pectinata). The west side of Andros, Bahamas is one of the last places on Earth that still provides vast refuge for this incredible animal”.

Finally, you may be wondering how exactly the sawfish uses its rostrum to stun fish, as mentioned earlier. Watch this short video – see how quickly it moves, for such an apparently cumbersome and dozy creature…
Credits as shown above, with particular mention of Jacque Cannon for probably the first known sighting and anyway photo of an Abaco sawfish…; header pic in aquarium Diliff (Wiki)

MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2


Here's one I caught earlier...

Here’s one I caught earlier… (Photo: Mrs RH)

 MARK’S BONEFISH FLIES (MARK 2): THE ABACO CHALLENGE, ROUND 2

Last March I took 6 bonefish flies specially tied by MARK MINSHULL out to Abaco to test on the Marls. They were lovely flies, tied with great skill by a man who can pull beautiful fly-caught fish out of the Thames. I tried them. Far better fishermen than me tried them. The result was a failure that can only be qualified by the word ‘complete’. Mark took the news very well, and promised to redesign some flies that might be more enticing this year. Here is his design report for the Mark 2 version that I received this morning. The links to the first experiment can be found at the end of this post. 

RH fish on 2013

RH gets lucky with a Delphi Daddy…

JLM BONEFISH SPECIAL MARK 2

Those of you who may have read my previous posts about JLM Specials and Bonefish already know about RH (of Rolling Harbour fame) and his wonderfully generous spirit. He kindly field tested my original pattern with fantastically conclusive results in 2014! The beauty of designing fly patterns is that one can tweak every variable based on feedback received… The basic pattern still holds however the revised editions are a far cry from their predecessors:

The original JLM Specials

The original JLM Specials

This afternoon I completed a set of adapted flies based on RH’s generous report from last time. White and pink, with small flashes of red or orange are my main ingredients and for the streamers, I used varying proportions of elk hair and/or Arctic fox fibres.

"Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement" - Helen Keller (photo - metiefly)

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement” – Helen Keller (photo – metiefly)

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

Thanks in advance to RH and his March 2015 test team!

I’ll keep you posted of the Outcome in due course. As always – thank you for reading and I look forward to your return.

Here is my own photo of the new Mark 2 flies on a white background to show their subtle differences. I can see at once that I shall have to number them all and remember who is using which, so that the killer variation(s) can be identified… As you will notice, the craftsmanship is terrific. My bet would be on the skinnier ones being the most effective in clear water, but I fancy casting one of the hairier ones across a feeding cloud and dragging it back through the murky water… (which is the only way I’ve ever caught 6+ lb fish – yes, yes, I hear you, that’s pure luck and not skill at all).

Bonefish Flies Mark2

Now I just have to sort out my fly box for next month’s escapades. Some things need to go to make some room – those appalling brown stripy ones for a start, which the guides have chortled at. Or, worse, stared at sadly… Oh, did I mention I also have the little tin with foam in… and that small green ‘Orvisman at Orvis’ fly box from Orvis™… 

The Snowbee Stripping Glove has been thrown to the ground at my feet. The challenge is accepted!

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS


ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT (Caroline Stahala)

ABACO’S FOUR PROTECTED AREAS: THE PROPOSALS

The latest version of the 40TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE BAHAMAS PROPOSAL FOR THE EXPANSION OF THE PROTECTED AREA SYSTEM OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF THE BAHAMAS has been published. It is a joint proposal by the Bahamas Government, The Nature Conservancy and the Bahamas National Trust. The breadth of the scheme is very ambitious, affecting all the principal Bahama Islands. To understand the objectives and scope of the project, you can see the whole 34-page project by clicking BAHAMAS PROPOSED PROTECTED AREAS 2014 It is in pdf format, so you should be able to save it if you wish to.

Many people will be familiar with the proposals as they affect Abaco. However since the latest version appears to be a final draft, I thought it might be helpful to show the 4 proposed areas of protection and conservation in their present form. These are, in summary:

  1. THE ABACO MARLS NATIONAL RESERVE A vast area of nearly 200,000 acres (300 square miles) of mangrove flats, sandbanks, creeks and wetland habitat
  2. EAST ABACO CREEKS NATIONAL PARK 13,000 acres (20 square miles) of wetland habitat that provides a vital wildlife nursery, and includes blue holes, creeks and a significant area for recreational activities (though Pete’s Pub at Little Harbour may be just outside the zone…)
  3. CROSS HARBOUR PROTECTED AREA 14,000 acres (21 square miles) in South West Abaco, a crucial breeding area for a number of species,including bonefish
  4. SOUTH ABACO BLUE HOLES CONSERVATION AREA  A huge 34,000 acre (53 square miles) swathe of South Abaco to the west of the E D Highway, incorporating 4 inland blue holes and important cave systems, and 13 offshore blue holes. This is an area of mainly pine forest on land and low waters at sea, with an anticipated value for eco-tourism

Here are the BNT maps showing the extent of each area. Far more information will be found via the link to the report given above. 

THE ABACO PROPOSALS

Abaco Preserves 1 copy

Abaco Preserves 2 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 3 copyjpg Abaco Preserves 4 copyjpg

Credits: Parrot, (ex-)parrot protector Caroline Stahala; Maps, BNT; acres to sq m conversion, Gizmo!

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS


Cormorant WWT 12

CORMORANTS: RAPACIOUS PESCATARIAN SEA-RAVENS

Cormorants are strange creatures. Strange to look at. Strange in their relationship with humans – love / hate in fishing terms and good / evil in mythology. Strangely useless for poetry, since – like the words ‘purple’ and ‘orange’ – there is no pure rhyme for the word cormorant. But they are undeniably striking, and a cormorant on the Abaco Marls effortlessly gliding inches above the water is an impressive sight.

Cormorant WWT 1Cormorant WWT 5

The cormorant’s name originates from the Latin name ‘Corvus Marinus’, the Sea Raven. Cormorants belong to the ‘Pelican’ order of birds known as the pelecaniformes that also encompasses tropicbirds, frigatebirds and anhingas. Worldwide, there are around 40 different species of cormorant. In many parts of the world, this seabird has established itself inland. Angling communities are increasingly concerned by the spread of this bird along productive fishing rivers, often far from the sea shore. In the UK as elsewhere they are very bad news for prime fishing rivers.

Cormorant WWT 8

Splosh! Gull Photobomb! It wasn’t there when I decided to press the trigger…Cormorant WWT 4 (gull photobomb)Itchy neck? You just have to scratch it…Cormorant WWT 6Relaxed now, thanks…Cormorant WWT 7

The birds here were photographed in the UK on Halloween. While the world was preparing to immerse up to its neck in blood, guts, gore and spider webs, I was out armed only with a camera in unseasonably warm sunshine. So these are Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo, the species found in the UK. They a remarkably similar to the Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus found on Abaco but larger and with a pale cheek and upper neck. This was a perfect day for the cormorants to enjoy their preening and wing-drying routines.

Cormorant WWT 9 Cormorant WWT 10 Cormorant WWT 11  Cormorant WWT 13

Last sight of the one on the small rock: “Hey, photographer, for !@£$%&* sake leave me alone, ok?”Cormorant WWT 14

I will be writing about Neotopic Cormorants Phalacrocorax brasilianus on Abaco in detail soon, but for comparative purposes here is one from Bruce Hallett taken on Teasure Cay Golf Course, where the ponds are usually a productive birding resource (check in at the clubhouse for permission first).

Neotropic Cormorant, Treasure Cay, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

And as for the very familiar double-crested cormorant, here is a great photo taken on Abaco by Jim Todd of three chicks growing up fast in their unusual double-decker nest…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Credits: All photos RH except the last 2, Bruce Hallett and Jim Todd

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO: THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT


_MG_4668_1280x853_

A BONEFISHING CHALLENGE ON ABACO

In January I posted an article called BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED. This stemmed from contact online with fisherman and fly tyer Mark Minshull, who kindly tied some flies for me to try on the Marls. In the post I showed pictures of my manky flybox and his immaculate flies. We agreed to see how things turned out while I was on Abaco in March, and  that I would report back…   

image24

Mark 1 Specimen Bonefish Flies

THE ‘WHICH?’ REPORT ON MARK 1 BONEFISHING FLIES

We set out to test the efficacy of  prototype ‘Mark 1’ bonefishing flies in the waters of the Abaco Marls. Our testers came from the US (TC & AH), Northern Ireland (AB), and England (RH). All are proficient fly fishermen with experience of several prime bonefishing destinations between them, except for the Englishman RH who was included to add balance to the trials by adding the element of incompetence. His fly box remained an object of ridicule throughout the tests, until he resorted to using a more carefully chosen small fly box containing his most successful flies, some ‘Delphi Club Approved’ flies and the test flies. 

QUALITY All our testers agreed that the Mark 1 flies were beautifully designed and tied. As flies, their quality was rated ‘superb’; ‘bloody good’; and ‘very impressive’. As potential winners for the waters of Abaco, however, there was considerable doubt about the suitability of the pattern for colouring, shape and size.

THE TEST AREA We used the huge area of prime bonefishing territory of the mangrove swamps and sand banks on the west side of Abaco known as the Marls. Our testers were familiar with the waters and all had fished them numerous times. The sea depth, depending on tide, is a few feet at most. The consistency of the bottom is of lightweight, pale coloured mud.

Bonefishing, Abaco Marls Abaco  1

It is usually easier to look out for the shadows of the fish on the light bottom than for the fish themselves, which are often difficult to see in the water. Half-close your eyes and look at this image – the fish almost disappears, but the shadow is clearly visible. It is hard to believe the wonderful colouring of the fish until it is out of the water.Bonefish, Abaco Marls Abaco 2

THE TESTS The initial reservations of the testers unfortunately proved justified in the field. The testers all found that the fish tended not to follow the flies at all, and mostly behaved as if they had not seen them, even with the most accurate casts. The few ‘follows’ observed produced refusals of the fly at the end. Disappointingly, no fly was taken by a single fish throughout the trials.

OBSERVATIONS Our testers had some useful comments. Above all, the Mark 1 flies were undoubtedly of excellent quality and design. They simply were not suited to the waters – or the bonefish – of Abaco. TC thought they might work in Belize. It was thought that larger versions might attract permit. Overall, the Mark 1s were so radically different from the tried and tested fly patterns used successfully on Abaco that the 3 competent fishermen soon forsook the experiment and caught fish using more familiar flies. The 4th tester, lacking any finesse, might have fluked a take against the odds , but even he drew a blank.

THE PROFESSIONALS The Guides in each case had been fishing the Marls since they could walk and hold a rod. They each examined the flies, shook their heads and kept their thoughts to themselves. We interpret this as indicating a tendency for the local guides to doubt the effectiveness of the Mark 1 flies.

IMG_1169

RH’s ‘Selected Specimen’ Fly Box

RESULTS ANALYSIS  The flies above show (front row) the 3 versions of the Mark 1 fly; (middle row) the highly effective Delphi Daddy and Delphi Diva patterns, with one random silver concoction of unknown origin; (back row) ; 2 browny / pale patterns plus a shocking pink one that the guides wisely forbade and, below, 3 roughly matching flies that brought great success even for RH this year (including 12 boated and 5 lost in one day), sourced from renowned tackle specialist E. Bay.

CONCLUSION The flies that catch the bones on Abaco tend to be pale and to have ‘streamer’ tails and / or a fair amount of sparkle. A touch of pink seems to be good. Too much pink, not so. Rubbery legs can be very effective (except in the fisherman after lunch). But lovely lifelike dark shrimp imitations are of no interest to the fish of the Marls.

‘WHICH?’ RATINGS FOR THE MARK 1 FLY 

  • Design and construction *****
  • Ease of use *****
  • Effectiveness for Abaco waters *

All photos RH. Thanks to Mark for creating the challenge and for being a great sport

A Box of Bonefish Flies (Abaco)

The largely ridiculous fly box of RH (most good ones removed)

 

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS


Stingrays Abaco Marls 1

RAYS OF SUNSHINE ON THE ABACO MARLS

The Marls of Abaco are prime bonefishing grounds, a vast area of labyrinthine mangrove swamps, sandy islets, channels and shallow flats on the west side of the main island. The fish are wily and powerful, the fly hooks are barbless, and each one caught, retained, boated and swiftly released is a prize. There’s plenty of other wildlife to be seen. Heron and egrets, ospreys, belted kingfishers, wading birds and many other bird species make the Marls their home. In the water, there are snappers, jacks, barracuda, and sharks of various kinds and sizes. These latter range from small black tip, lemon and hammerhead sharks to more substantial contenders, with the occasional massive bull shark to add a frisson for those on a suddenly fragile-seeming skiff… 

There are also rays. I have posted before about the SOUTHERN STINGRAY and the YELLOW STINGRAY Out on the Marls I have mainly seen Southerns as they move serenely and unhurriedly through the warm shallow water. A couple of weeks ago, we were out with the rods when we had a completely new Ray experience. I’m not overly given to anthropomorphism and getting too emotional about encounters, but we all found this one quite moving – even our very experienced guide.

Gliding to our right side, a pair of stingrays slowed as they neared the skiffStingrays Abaco Marls 2

The adult paused very close to us, allowing the little ray to catch upStingrays Abaco Marls 3

Lifting a wing slightly the adult let the juvenile creep under, while keeping a beady eye on usStingrays Abaco Marls 4

The large ray was missing the tip of its tail, presumably from some adverse encounterStingrays Abaco Marls 5

The creatures examined us carefully for 2 or 3 minutes, before separatingStingrays Abaco Marls 6

Then they slowly drifted away across the sand…Stingrays Abaco Marls 7

According to our guide, this gently protective behaviour is not uncommon. They may well have been completely unrelated, the large ray tolerating the smaller one accompanying it through the waters and offering a kindly wing in the presence of danger or suspicious objects like us.

Photo Credits: Mrs RH (I was too entranced at the sharp end, with a bird’s eye view, to get a camera out)

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS


Osprey - Abaco Marls 3

AN OSPREY ON THE ABACO MARLS

Anglers are not the only creatures out fishing on the Marls. Herons and egrets of several sorts live in the massive area of mangrove swamp, shallow sea and sandy spits that make up the prime bonefishing grounds of Abaco. Yesterday, we were lucky enough to be joined by an osprey. Hooking my ‘Delphi Daddy’ safely into a rod ring, I grabbed a camera and took some shots. These aren’t that great because (a) I normally only take a small cheap camera out fishing (b) the bird was some away off and (c ) my image qualities are variable… These aren’t really worth clicking to enlarge, but I’m pleased to have got some ‘action shots’ of this wonderful bird.

Osprey - Abaco Marls 2Osprey - Abaco Marls 1Osprey - Abaco Marls 4

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED


Abaco Bonefish a

BONEFISHING ON ABACO: A CHALLENGE IS ACCEPTED

Here is my fly box. It is a qualified success, as is my fishing. The fly box is rather better organised than I am, though. Some of the flies in it are routinely ignored by others to whom I helpfully offer the box.  I’ve found the best plan is to stick with the silvery shrimpy patterns, especially the ones with pink heads. Then nobody gets upset. And from time to time I get lucky (see header image).

BF flies3a

Recently, a proper fisherman started to follow my blog, and I his. I immediately recognised one of the fishing lakes on his site, one where I have fished in the past. One thing led to another and I seem to have agreed to trial some of Mark’s expertly tied flies on the Abaco flats in March…

Mark’s Bonefish Patternsimage24

I am very keen on the principles of ‘Catch and Release’. So keen that I have developed my own specialist methods (designed for fishing with barbless hooks) using what might be termed ‘Early C&R’. These may include some or all of the following on any given day: 

  1.  ‘THE PHANTOM CATCH’ As the fish follows the fly, and the instant before it commits to a lunge for it, abruptly whisk the fly away from under its nose with a sharp reflex ‘trout-strike’. This will ensure that both the fish and your fly remain untroubled by actual contact. This is the most advanced form of Early C&R.
  2. ‘THE BIG MISSED TAKE’ As the fish takes your fly firmly in its mouth, become preoccupied by the fact that your left foot is planted firmly on a horrid tangle of line around your feet. You will feel the solid take, but instantly realise that your retrieve is hopelessly compromised. With some relief, you feel the line go slack as the fish shakes itself free…
  3. ‘THE REEL THING’ Hook the fish. Feel the weight on the end of the line. It’s heavy. Nice one! Turn in muted triumph to your boat partner to shout excitedly “Got One”. As you do so, allow the line somehow to snag round the rod handle and the reel simultaneously. Before you have even begun to figure how to sort this out, the fish will have released itself and be heading for the horizon.
  4. ‘THE STICKY SITUATION’ Hook the fish. Reel in confidently, keeping the line taut and the fish under your masterful control. Allow it to run if it wishes. Proceed with the same efficiency until you notice a single mangrove stem sticking out of the water 30 feet away. Using your skill, ensure that the fish suddenly has the chance to move to the other side of the stick, winding the leader or line (either will do) round it. Prepare for the ‘twang’ when the inevitable break occurs.  Your fish is away.
  5. ‘THE MANGROVE SWAMP’ Hook a fish. Play it competently until the moment your boat partner or guide gives you some word of encouragement or (worse) praise. Immediately, permit the fish to make a fast break for the nearest clump of mangroves even if it is over 100 feet away. The consequent entanglement round the myriad stems will be sure to lose you the fish and your fly. NOTE: all third party encouragement will diminish after this form of EC&R. Praise will not be repeated.

image4

Mark has just made a challenge public on his website in a post called  All aboard for Abaco! “This little packet of flies is destined for the Bahamas… What stories will they conjure up in time? Rolling Harbour, Abaco… All will be revealed in time! Thanks in advance to RH – I will keep everyone posted in due course! Looking forward to some beautiful pictures of Bonefish…” The flies in question are shown below. It is expected that they will prove to be effective. The expectation is Mark’s. My own feeling is more one of hope. I hope he knows what he is doing. I hope I know what I am doing.*

Rolling Harbour, Abaco... All will be revealed in time!

*The plan is to ask my boat-partner and guide – anyone with access to a rod, really – to “have a go with one of these little guys”. They are far less likely to be as skilled as I am at Early C&R, and are therefore far more likely to boat a fish. Job done…

Photos: RH, 1st two; the rest by Mark

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)


Wilson's Plover, Abaco 12

NEST PROTECTION: WILSON’S PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)

This is the second of three vaguely planned posts about these delightful shore birds. They aren’t rare but they are approachable and fun to watch. During the nesting and hatching season, there may even be some gorgeous chicks on a beach near you (a phrase I never thought I’d find myself using). PART ONE identified the typical male and female adults found on the Delphi beach almost any day. 

Nettie's Point, Abaco - Trucks & Skiffs

This post is about nest protection. Not the ingenious methods of  the birds themselves, that will come next time. This is a story of protection by humans. The photograph above shows Nettie’s Point, one of the launching points for bonefishing skiffs being taken out to the Marls, a vast area of sea, low sand banks and mangroves where the fish are found. You hope. The skiffs gain access to open sea via an artificial channel carved out of rock. The early morning trip along it is one of the most exciting part of a fisherman’s day, as he or she sets out with a clean score sheet, a rod and a box of flies. And a cooler box with some food and maybe a Kalik beer or three.

Nettie's Point, Abaco - the cut to the sea

This June, a pair of plovers decided to locate their nesting ‘scrape’ right in the middle of the cleared area where the trucks normally turn. This was by no means a wise home-planning decision, and they might well have found themselves being promptly relocated. Or (worst case scenario) ending up under a large Toyota. But not a bit of it. Instead, these small birds were looked after by the guides like this: Nettie's Point, Abaco - Plover's nest protection

A makeshift castle was built all round the nest to protect it from any inadvertent truck-related tragedies. Meanwhile the male plover stood guard outside the castle, amiably watching the human activities. Nettie's Point, Abaco - Male Wilson's Plover guards nest

I kept my distance but in fact he was quite unperturbed, perhaps sensing that we were not a threat. He still kept a beady eye on the proceedings, though.Nettie's Point, Abaco - male Wilson's Plover guards a nest

Meanwhile, what of the wooden enclosure itself? At first glance, there didn’t look much to report. However, if you look in the centre of the picture, you’ll see the female peeping out from the nest.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Nest protection 2

I very slowly moved nearer, prepared to stop if the male became agitated, or if the female shifted her position. Both seemed quite relaxed, so I took a couple of shots and walked away to leave the birds in peace. Then I went fishing.Nettie's Point, Abaco - Female Wilson's Plover on NestNettie's Point, Abaco - Mrs Wilson's Plover on the nest

As a postscript, Nettie’s Point is the location of a remarkable geographical phenomenon, possibly the result of the cutting of the channel. Along one part of the cut, for about 30 feet, the water level sinks alarming in the middle, while remaining normal at each side. Then it levels out again. This remarkable mid-stream aquatic depression is quite disconcerting to motor through on a skiff, though eventually one gets used to it. Nettie's Point, Abaco - channel water phenomenon(Note: not every fact in this post is 100% true. If you have some salt handy, take a pinch)

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS


Great Egret Abaco 7

WHITE SOUND, ABACO: MANGROVES, MUD & (REALLY) GREAT EGRETS

The piratically named Treasure Cay (aaarrrrrr…) is north of Marsh Harbour, and home to one of the larger communities on Abaco. It has a wonderfully long white sand beach, a golf course, condos and villas, a marina and a cheerful atmosphere. It is also one of the best areas in North Abaco for birding. There are the shorebirds, of course, and all the usual ‘settlement’ species. In addition, the golf course has freshwater ponds where you will find a wide variety of duck and other water species. NB Check in at the Club House and get permission first – amiably given if politely requested (see map below).

Treasure Cay also has a large area of bays, brackish inlets and lagoons, including – to continue the pirate theme – Galleon Bay, Brigantine Bay, Cannon Bay and Gun Powder Creek. And also White Sound. This can be reached by luck (which may run out) or good management (ask for directions; wait for me to get back the map I have lent to someone and post a grab from it). Drive (with care) along the uneven track beside the lagoon and there is a good chance you will see Great Egrets in the mangrove islands dotted around the middle of the water. This is what to look out for…Great Egret, White Sound, Abaco

Zoom in a bit, and you’ll see two more egrets on the far side of the clump of mangroves. It’s a colony… in the end we were able to count 9 birds on this one mangrove island.Great Egret Abaco 1

One of the loveliest features of these fine birds in breeding season is the way that even a slight breeze will blow their long plumes away from their bodies like streamersGreat Egret Abaco 2Great Egret Abaco 3

We were some way from the birds, as these rather indifferent photos suggest, so we decided to try and get closer. The water was fairly low, leaving expanses of firm-looking marly mud around the edge. There was an apparent causeway to an overgrown rocky outcrop that would enable us to get closer to a vantage point without being spotted. As it turned out, the mud was only… ankle deep. It could have been messier. And we had a chance to see at close quarters the remarkable way in which mangrove entanglements develop.

Great Egret Abaco 4 Great Egret Abaco 5

We reached the outcrop muddier and slightly wiser, and clambered up through the scrubby and scratchy bushes to the top, nothing if not intrepid. My wading stick came in handy for beating a rough path. And by adopting strange stances in the manner of someone trying to pick up a faint cellphone signal, we could peer through the foliage to establish whether we were indeed a bit closer to the egrets.Great Egret Abaco 6

The answer was yes. But there was another obstacle, familiar to all fellow ‘focus fail’ offenders. Shooting a bird through a hole in a bush straight in front of you is complicated. You get a vivid detailed  frame of greenery, with a blurry centre of unintentional and unwanted BOKEH instead of the intended subject. A lens entension (the poor man’s zoom that I use) tends to make it worse. So you’ll have to make do with these pictures for now, until you can visit White Sound and get your own with your natty Nikon. Great Egret Abaco 11Great Egret Abaco 9Great Egret Abaco 8

My favourite ‘stance’ shotGreat Egret Abaco 10

That wasn’t the end of the adventure. After we had squidged our way back through the slightly smelly mud, we moved further along the sound, to find a further egret colony on the far shore just in time to watch them from afar as they took flight.Great Egret Abaco 12 Great Egret Abaco 13 Great Egret Abaco 14

TREASURE CAY, LOCATIONS OF WHITE SOUND & THE GOLF CLUB, &  SOME PIRATICAL NAMESTreasure Cay Map

TREASURE CAY IN RELATION TO OTHER ABACO PLACESAbaco Egret Map 1 jpg

When leaving Treasure Cay, visitors receive a friendly reminder to return, in terms reminiscent of, yet far nicer than, a Scottish Tourist Board brochure. Maybe this reflects the historic significance of the Scots in the history of the Bahamas, to the extent that there is even a Bahamas tartan. 

Bahamas TartanHaste Ye Back...

TC Map credit: Abaco Estate Services. They send me emails, so I guess they won’t mind publicity here

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO


Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 5

IT’S ALL WHITE – IT’S A REDDISH EGRET ON ABACO

Contrary to appearances from the header image and the one below, Reddish Egrets (Egretta rufescens) do not yet use cellphones to communicate. Nevertheless, the trick of having a good ear-scratch while standing in water on one leg is a good posey accomplishment.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 4

All these photos were taken while we were bonefishing from a skiff far out on the Marls in the mangroves. Ishi poled us closer so that boat-partner Tom – a real photographer – could get some shots. Meanwhile, I did my best with my little camera that I take out on the boat – the one that won’t matter too much when it slips from my hand or pocket into the drink. These things happen: I lost a good pair of Costas that a gust of wind unkindly whisked away when I took them off to change a fly.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 3Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 2

This egret comes in two very different ‘colourways’. The classic version has a slatey-blue body and a reddish head and plumes. The white morph is pure white. The only similarities between the two are the two-tone bills with the black tip; and the blue-grey legs and feet.

True Reddish Egret, as you might expect it to lookReddish_Egret Wiki

The white morphReddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 9

I’m not certain of the proportions of each type on Abaco, but I have certainly seen twice as many white ones as true reddish ones. There seem to be quite a few around – there are plenty of fish for them and dozens of square miles of human-free space in which to stalk them. However as with many (most?) of the bird species, there is a declining population for all the usual man-related reasons, and these fine birds have now had to be put on the IUCN ‘near-threatened’ list.220px-Status_iucn3.1_NT.svg

The bird kept an eye on us as we drifted closer, but was unperturbed. It continued to poke around in the mud, and occasionally it moved delicately but quite quickly to a different patch.Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 8 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 7 Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 6

We watched the bird for about 10 minutes. Then we returned to what we were really there for – Tom to catch bones with practised skill, and me to wave the rod incompetently around until some passing fish took pity on me and grabbed my fly, knowing it would soon be released once all the fuss was over…Reddish Egret (White Morph) Abaco 1

ONE ROYAL BABY DESERVES… AN ABACO ROYAL TERN


Royal Tern Crowned

ONE ROYAL BABY DESERVES… AN ABACO ROYAL TERN

I posted briefly about ROYAL TERNS (Thalasseus maximus) on the Abaco Marls earlier this year HERE. Yesterday’s news from the Lindo Wing (anti-Monarchists look away now) surely justifies a few more photos of these fine and noble seabirds. Everyone else is using the event to sell newspapers / magazines / products (‘Royal’ Baby Lotion – so gentle, so soft – fit for a future King’s delicate…’ etc etc). If there’s a cheerful bandwagon passing, why not just hop on? I’ll skip the info about the range and nesting arrangements of these birds and show some them in all their glory, posing in the sunshine on a dead tree way out in the Abaco Marls.

Royal Terns Abaco (2) 4Royal Terns Abaco (2) 6 Royal Terns Abaco (2) 5 Royal Terns Abaco (2) 3 Royal Terns Abaco (2) 2 Royal Terns Abaco (2) 1PS No terns were hurt trying to get the yellow crown to fit one of them. In fact, they rather enjoyed it…

WILLET OR WON’T IT… GET CLOSE TO YOU?


WILLET OR WON’T IT… GET CLOSE TO YOU?

Willets (Tringa semipalmata) are large sandpipers, familiar as shore birds, foragers on sand bars and mudflats, or out in the mangrove swamps. Some might describe them as quite solid and plain to look at. Until they take flight, when their gorgeous wing patterns are revealed.

willet ©Greg Page @ Cornell Lab

Willets are ground-nesting birds, often breeding in colonies. They use their stout bills to forage on mudflats or in shallow water for insects, crustaceans, marine worms and occasionally plant-life. They tend to keep their distance, and in the past I have only managed this sort of unimpressive snapshot, not least because I normally only take a small basic camera out on the water in case it – or I – should fall in.Willet, Abaco Marls 1

However, we recently fished from the prow of a skiff parked on a sandy spit on the Abaco Marls, as bonefish came past on the tide. It was a productive hour for my boat-partner, though frankly less so for his boat-partner… As we fished, and to our surprise, a willet landed of the point of the spit to feed, and gradually worked its way towards us seemingly unconcerned by the skiff, by us or by the fish action. It started off about 30 feet away, and at close quarters it was far less drab and notably more elegant than expected.Willet, Abaco Marls 4

It foraged slowly towards us, keeping a beady inky-black eye on usWillet, Abaco Marls 2

At one time it came within a very few feet of us, then decided it had come close enough. We watched it stepping delicately away on its semi-palmated feet. The shot isn’t clear enough to show the slight webbing between the toes. However, you can clearly see the barred tail.Willet, Abaco Marls 5

In the c19 and early c20 there was a sharp population decline of these fine birds due to hunting. I’m not sure if it was for feathers, food or fun. All three, probably. Their population has recovered and their IUCN status is currently ‘Least Concern’, but like so many similar species they remain at risk, especially through continued habitat loss.

The Willet call and song are very distinctive, and are reproduced here via the great bird-noise resource Xeno-Canto

CALL

SONG

Willet, Abaco Marls 6All images RH except header (Wikimedia) & in-flight image (Greg Page @ Cornell Lab for Ornithology)

(PS if you think the traditional RH puntastic title is laboured, be grateful I didn’t proceed with the initial idea of working ‘Bruce Willets’ into this post. It didn’t work, on any level…)

BURNING SENSATIONS: FOREST FIRES ON ABACO


Forest Fires, Abaco 11

BURNING SENSATIONS: FOREST FIRES ON ABACO 

My last post was about SAWMILL SINK – not the famous Blue Hole itself, but the detritus of past logging activity in that part of the Abaco pine forests revealed by last month’s forest fires. I mentioned that this destructive burning of the shrubby understorey is (allegedly) the work of  hunters making it easier for their dogs to pursue the hog denizens of the forest. The evidence suggests that nature alone could not cause so many separate seats of fire to appear in a matter of days over such a wide area – and in springtime at that.

This year, the fires came uncomfortably close to several small communities and outlying residences – and to the Delphi Club itself. Many people spent nights hosing down undergrowth and building on the edge of settlements, with neighbours all joining in. Electricity poles are vulnerable, with obvious consequences for the supply should they burn through at the bottom, as often happens. One pole a short way south of Delphi on the highway has the burnt remains of 3 utility posts beside the current (ha!) one. At Delphi itself, the vegetation from around all the poles along the mile of drive had to be cleared.

This iPhone photo was taken from the Delphi balcony. The fire is in fact on the far side of the highway, with the pall of smoke – and therefore the fire’s direction – heading south. The question is, when and where will it jump the highway, and what will be the wind direction then…Forest Fires, Abaco 12

This picture shows the extraordinary effect of the smoke-laden atmosphere on the sunset. The header picture is another example. The fire is now into the pine woods between the Club and the highway, and the theory that the damp coppice nearer the Club will act as a barrier to prevent its spread is about to be put to the test overnight…Forest Fires, Abaco 9

It soon became clear that the fires were not going to be discouraged by the coppice.  Sandy is always eager to find volunteers to go out in a truck to feel the heat, so to speak. He is apt to dismiss concerns that one is sitting on top of a large tank of inflammable liquid by pointing out that diesel is less combustible than petrol. This is invariably comforting to all occupants of the vehicle. So with the fire burning bright, and with tree-tops suddenly bursting into flame like torches, off we go…Forest Fires, Abaco 3Forest Fires, Abaco 5Forest Fires, Abaco 7Forest Fires, Abaco 1Forest Fires, Abaco 2

In the morning, a smokey mist lies over the trees and the bay to the northForest Fires, Abaco 14

An uncomfortably short distance along the guest drive, it is clear that the coppice has burnt quite easily, though not devastatingly. In fact there are still flames to be seen…Forest Fires Abaco 19Forest Fires Abaco 18

Later, out on the Marls, a plume of smoke is visible, with several more in either directionForest Fires, Abaco 4

Despite the widespread damage caused by the fires, the capacity for regeneration is amazing. New growth is visible very quickly, and within the year the burnt-out areas are mostly back to normal. I’ll end on that optimistic note, and with another dramatic sunset above the haze of smoke over the tree canopy.Forest Fires, Abaco 8

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