SOME NICE PICS OF BAHAMAS WILDLIFE… WHILE TECHIES LABOUR


Ring-billed Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

SOME NICE PICS OF BAHAMAS WILDLIFE…

WHILE TECHIES LABOUR

Western Spindalis, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

I’m never quite sure how far it’s permissible to go beyond ‘really pissed off’ about a tech problem. Anything much stronger seems a bit indulgent both in itself and especially when measured against the far-reaching despair experienced by many in far more important areas of life.

Northern Parula Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

I am just having a huge “Grrrrrrrrr” moment because my complex blog menu, with 3 rows of headings and carefully curated nests of drop-downs under each, has been scrubbed by persons or AI unknown. It’s several years of cumulative and (mostly) pleasurable organisational work up the spout.

As a Brit, may I be permitted to say ‘bother’. Or maybe ‘Dash it all?’ Or declare that I’m a mite cheesed orf? To which a fair response would be “it’s just a trivial inconvenience, get over it…”

Abaco Parrot (Craig Nash)

For the moment, here are some nice pics to enjoy, all taken on Abaco. I’m happy to say that right now, 7 weeks since Dorian, there are promising signs that in some areas of Abaco, the birds are starting to show themselves – including a few winter warblers. See you the other side of rethinking my Menu…

Conch shell, Schooner Bay Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: Nina Henry, Bruce Hallett, Mary Kay Beach, Craig Nash, Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour, Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO (western spindalis badge, moi)

Humpback Whale tailing, Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

ABACO’S RARE PIPING PLOVERS: CITIZEN SCIENTISTS WANTED FOR YEAR 5


Piping plover adult & chick (Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ / birdsbyKim)

ABACO’S RARE PIPING PLOVERS: CITIZEN SCIENTISTS WANTED FOR YEAR 5

  • BE A BEACH MONITOR IN THE CAUSE OF RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION OF A TINY RARE BIRD THAT CHOOSES ABACO FOR ITS WINTER HOME
  • NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY; MINIMAL EQUIPMENT (pen, paper, binox & a ‘normal’ camera)
  • ABILITY TO COUNT TINY BIRDS IN (USUALLY) SMALL NUMBERS AN ADVANTAGE
  • SIMPLE AS TAKING A NATURE WALK ON YOUR FAVOURITE BEACH (but sorry, not with a dog)
  • COMMITMENT UP TO YOU – ONCE A WEEK, ONCE A MONTH, JUST THE ONCE
  • EVERY SIGHTING IS LOGGED – BANDED BIRDS ARE TRACKED BACK TO THEIR ORIGINS
  • EVERY BIRD IS A STAT THAT ADDS TO THE OVERALL PICTURE FOR RESEARCHERS
  • THE BIRDS MAY BE FOUND ON THE MAINLAND AND THE CAYS – EVEN THE MARLS
  • WE WORK IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE SCIENTISTS  IN THE BREEDING GROUNDS
  • ABACO IS THE ONLY BAHAMAS ISLAND WITH AN ANNUAL WINTER-LONG WATCH

At the end of July – my guess is the 28th, on past form – the first piping plover of the winter season will be resighted on Abaco. It will weigh less than 2oz, and will have travelled at least 1000 miles (direct route). In practice it will be much further, because the journey will be broken by coastal stopovers en route.

‘SQUID’ from the Holgate Unit of the Edwin B Forsythe NWR, NJ, overwintering on Abaco (year 2)Piping Plover Squid from NJ - on Abaco Bahamas (Keith Kemp)

My bet is that the first bird will touch down in the Cherokee Sound area. There’s a fair chance it will be called ‘Squid’  from New Jersey (for the 3rd year) or ‘Black Flag 2J’ from Prince Edward Island, Canada (for the 2nd year). At once, ABACO PIPING PLOVER WATCH will switch from summer indolence to red alert and piping hot… for the next 7 months. The last winter visitor will leave on ± March 15 2020 to return to its breeding grounds in the North (specific parts of northern US / Canada).

Piping Plover on Man-o-War Cay, Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Charmaine Albury)

HOW ON EARTH CAN YOU PREDICT THIS?

Since the 2015-16 season, we have been monitoring Abaco’s beaches, shorelines, and flats (there are specific locations that are preferred by the birds) throughout the winter season. Each year adds to the data from previous years and as the annual information is analysed, the knowledge of the behaviours of this little plover significantly increases.

‘TUNA’ – a legendary regular from past years (Rhonda Pearce)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Rhonda Pearce)

Over 4 years, distinctive patterns have emerged.

  1. Firstly, the plover numbers each season are fairly constant.
  2. Next, we have found that a number of birds return the following winter. Some are repeat returners – the current record is held by Bahama Mama from Lake Michigan, with 5 annual visits to the very same beach.
  3. Then, we have established that many of the banded birds are (a) resighted along the US coastline where they take a stopover during migration and (b) return to exactly the same beach where they were born.
  4. Often, we can find out when they hatched, fledged and left the beach – and even the person who did the banding.
  5. Finally, the number of banded birds – especially Canadian ones – is on the rise. This in part reflects an increase in summer chicks banding – but the fact is, we can show that they are turning up on Abaco, and returners usually turn up either on the same shoreline (or very close to it) as the previous year.

Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

WOULD IT MATTER IF APPW DIDN’T EXIST?

In one sense no, because the birds would still undertake their Fall and Spring migrations, even if no one took any notice. But then, of course, no one would have any idea where the plovers might be for 6 – 8 months of the year. What the Watch can do, in conjunction with our partners in the breeding grounds, is to complete the annual migration circle and provide the specific details that help research and conservation of this rare little bird (world population around 8000). Furthermore, the Watch results provide continuing evidence that Abaco and its Cays provide a safe and suitable overwintering habitat for the birds. 

SQUIDS KIDS – THE MIGRATION CIRCLE COMPLETED

KEITH, CHEROKEE & ABACOPiping Plover 'Keith' - CWFNJ    Piping Plover 'Cherokee' - CWFNJ Piping Plover 'Abaco' CWFNJ

These 3 little chicks are this summer’s hatchlings (in June) of parents Squid (see above) and ‘Sophia’. This is on the very same beach where Squid was born and banded in July 2017. Sometime this Fall, we hope that Squid will return for a 3rd year in Cherokee Sound. And we hope just as much that one or maybe all his chicks will arrive on Abaco too. We’ll certainly know if they do – we already know their band combinations! They each have an Abaco-related name – maybe that will encourage them too.

Piping plover on the beach at Delphi (Peter Mantle)Piping Plover on Abaco Bahamas (Peter Mantle)

WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE CAN BE BEACH MONITORS?

Anyone at all. No experience is needed. You’ll be given all the info you need about the birds you’ll be looking for, and it may be possible to go out with a monitor to see what it’s like. Even a blank report is useful to have, to indicate where the plovers are not… And there’s no such thing as a mistake – the system allows for occasional miscounts, for example. Below is a summary of the last season, from which you can see the kind of data that is accumulated. 

You’ll see that there were 17 beach monitors of whom most were local Abaconians or regular second-homers. You probably know some or all of them! A few were visitors from US and UK. The 2 pro monitors were from our partners Conserve Wildlife Foundation NJ, and Audubon Caribbean. Keith Kemp is the wonderful and hard-working lead monitor and very regularly visits the hotspot shorelines. Other people made quite frequent reports, some about once a month, and several made fewer than 5. Each one added to the overall picture.

Piping Plover chick on LBI (Northside Jim Verhagen)

 

If you would like to become involved, even on the most casual basis, please do get in touch. Ditto if you’d like to know a bit more about it. If you decide not to go ahead – or once started, to stop – that’s all fine. It’s basically up to you whether you want to turn a beach walk into a bit of research (though as I mentioned above, it’s not a thing that can be done with a dog, for obvious reasons). Take a friend – or even a spouse. A single sighting might reveal a hitherto unknown location or a new banded bird – it happens every year. It’s Citizen Science in action!

Please email me at rolllingharbour.delphi [@] gmail.com or contact me via FB. Or just comment on this post!

A flock of piping plovers (with a few birds that aren’t), Cherokee Flats (Lucy & mark Davies)Piping Plover Flock, Cherokee Sound, Abaco Bahamas (Lucy & Mark Davies)

Credits: CWFNJ / Kim; Keith Kemp; Charmaine Albury; Rhonda Pearce; Keith Salvesen; CWFNJ / Michelle Stantial x 3; Peter Mantle; ‘Northside’ Jim Verhagen x 2, LBI; Lucy & Mark Davies

I’m on Long Beach Island right now – hope to meet you on Abaco in the Fall (Northside Jim)
Piping Plover chick on LBI (Northside Jim Verhagen)

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE


Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

BABY SPERM WHALE IN BAHAMAS WATERS: AMAZING FOOTAGE

Over several years I have had the privilege of being able to feature wonderful photographs and video footage in this blog. Birds, course, and also reef fish, sharks, seahorses, coral and anemones and a whole lot more. I have also been involved throughout with the wonderful work of the Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO), and have been a part of team since 2017. Abaco is lucky enough to have the HQ at Sandy Point, but we must keep in mind that the organisation’s remit extends throughout the entire Bahamas archipelago, and has firm links with research and conservation organisations on the other islands.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

The clear turquoise waters around the islands and their cays are well-known to, and appreciated by, all. This is the playground of the smaller marine mammals – the dolphins, smaller whales and the (now a significant presence) manatees.

   

Less well known are the denizens of the deeper waters and the immense depths of the GREAT BAHAMA CANYON of the northern Bahamas. This is the realm of the large marine animals, from the mysterious speciality beaked whales right up to massive sperm whales. 

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

About 3 weeks ago, the BMMRO research team encountered something truly wondrous off the south Abaco coastline – something to quicken the pulse and gladden the heart – a newborn sperm whale investigating the underwater world it has just been born into. Hopefully it will flourish and live for decades. The hope is sadly tempered by the overwhelming – and increasing – evidence of the terrible effect that humans have caused in just one generation by the pollution of air, land and sea. 

Charlotte Dunn posted the footage of 2 separate sightings. Her first caption reads:

“Close encounter with a curious newborn (‘neonate’) sperm whale yesterday – reminding us of the importance of our Shared Waters project about the effects of ship traffic on resident sperm whales, http://www.bahamaswhales.org/research.aspx. The young individuals like this one will be the most impacted if we don’t make serious conservation changes. As this young whale matures, the policy changes we make in the Bahamas now will affect its survival”.

“While their mothers are feeding at depth (knocking sound in the background) this newborn is being cared for by a slightly older calf until the adults return.”

After the second encounter, Charlotte wrote: “Here’s another amazing short clip of the neonate sperm whale we videoed off south Abaco two weeks ago – thank you to the BEP Foundation and the Devereux Ocean Foundation for funding some of our important work with sperm whales in the Bahamas”.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

On Charlotte’s conservation points above, over the last 3 months or so I have been checking daily for posts and articles specifically related to stranded, dead, and killed whales, and their stomach contents as revealed by necropsies. I have collected images from around the world. I won’t wreck this marvellous find in Abaco waters by including any of these. This casual research reveals a horrifying attrition rate for marine mammals. Most animals were full of plastics, from micro through flip-flops all the way up to very large chunks. Some of this junk clearly was the actual cause of death rather than a contributing factor. A whale may take several weeks to die in this way. All of it is entirely the responsibility of mankind – and pretty much caused in the last 50 years.

So let’s enjoy this little sperm whale, and hope it grows to an adulthood that will have seen a radical change for the better in its birth environment – the one that should never have been considered ours to destroy.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

CREDITS: Brilliant close-up footage plus the clips I have taken from it – Charlotte Dunn / Diane Claridge / BMMRO.  

DONATE: If you are touched by the magic of this little Bahamas sperm whale, may I invite you to consider making a donation to BMMRO for its research and conservation work – a scientific commitment that reaches far beyond the waters of the Bahamas. The system is set up to process donations from just $10 upwards, and every cent is used to further the work of BMMRO. Please click the logo below to reach the right page directly.

Sperm Whale baby (neonate) Abaco Bahamas (Charlotte Dunn / BMMRO)

Baby sperm whale off south Abaco, Bahamas ©BMMRO

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…


Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

FOLLOWING DOLPHINS IN THE BAHAMAS…

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation (BMMRO) is based at Sandy Point, Abaco. The principals Diane Claridge and Charlotte Dunn with their team cover not only Abaco waters but the whole of the Bahamas. Their research work is complex, and some of it is carried out in conjunction with partners on specific projects or more generally.

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Which brings me to SailorDolphin Research, a project that involves the meticulous mapping, photographing, and recording of the details of each sighting. Much of the work is carried out in the Bahamas in partnership with BMMRO. The link will take you to the homepage, which notes “This website provides a list of Dolphins that I have documented on the US East coast and the Bahamas. It includes details (with photos & notes) for each dolphin and lists of their sightings from my personal database.” If you have an interest in dolphins (and who does not?), it will repay exploration – and you will see some awesome photographs. Here are a few of them to admire. 

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

Now imagine yourself in the water, with these wonderful creatures cutting through the water in front of you, working their sleek bodies just below the surface, jostling and cavorting, occasionally letting a fin cut through the water. Hold that thought… Right, get back to work!

All photos courtesy of SailorDolphin / BMMRO

Following Dolphins (SailorDolphin / BMMRO)

‘WELL SPOTTED’ 1: PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS IN ABACO


Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

‘WELL SPOTTED’: PANTROPICAL SPOTTED DOLPHINS IN ABACO

Two species of spotted dolphin are found in Bahamas waters. The most common is the ATLANTIC SPOTTED DOLPHIN Stenella frontalis, a species confined to the Atlantic. Less commonly seen – though with a global range – are Pantropical Spotted Dolphins Stenella attenuata

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

The BMMRO research boat is out whale-spotting right now, and the team is finding a good variety of cetacean species, from dolphins right up to SPERM WHALE mother and calves. A couple of days ago, the pantropicals surfaced and these great shots of them were taken.

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

The two spotted dolphin species are very similar to the untrained eye. Identification is further complicated by the fact that both species start life without spots and go through stages ranging from no spots at all to completely spotted. These stages are sometimes referred to as ‘two-tone, speckled, mottled, and fused’. The pantropicals are relatively small, reaching lengths up to 7 feet and weighing c250 pounds at adulthood. Their beaks are longer and more slender than the familiar but larger bottlenose dolphin. The beak has a white tip, a useful identifier.

Atlantic Spotted and Pantropical Spotted range maps for comparison

The pantropicals favour shallower water by day, and at night they move to deeper water where they can dive down for food such as squid. Although they are IUCN listed as ‘Least Concern’ and their world-wide numbers are estimated to be abundant, they face the usual man-related threats to the species throughout their range, especially in the Pacific region. As we see time after time, complacency can turn to concern in a very short time.

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

THREATS TO THE SPECIES

  • Entanglement in fishing gear – captured as bycatch in the course of commercial fishing
  • Entangled in discarded fishing gear
  • Illegal feeding and harassment – this is a problem in particular locations eg Hawaii
  • Overexposure to and interaction with eager tourists in inshore areas
  • Hunting – these dolphins are prolifically hunted for food in several parts of the world
  • Hunting – they are caught ‘accidentally’ in large numbers in nets set for tuna
  • Persecution in eastern tropical Pacific fisheries, according to WDC
  • Pollution, plastic ingestion etc – basically, mankind’s negligence over 60 years or so
  • General habitat degradation, disturbance and marine noise pollution – mankind again

Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)Pan-tropical Spotted Dolphins, Abaco Bahamas (BMMRO)

Credits: BMMRO for all photos; research credits NOAA; WDC

‘SOCIABLE DOLPHINS’: MELON-HEADED WHALES


Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

‘SOCIABLE DOLPHINS’: MELON-HEADED WHALES

Last month, BMMRO undertook a joint expedition with FIELD SCHOOL to carry out research on sperm whales. This took them out into deep water, where another, quite different, cetacean species was also encountered on the final day – a huge pod of more than 100 melon-headed whales Peponocephala electra.

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

The melon-headed whale is in fact – like the FALSE KILLER WHALE I recently wrote about – a species of dolphin. It is sometimes more accurately called the melon-headed dolphin, which removes any confusion. These creatures are oceanic, preferring deeper waters. For that reason they are not often encountered, despite being quite common in tropical and sub-tropical waters around the world.

Cetacea range map Melon-headed Whale.PNG

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

The MHW belongs to a dolphin species commonly known as blackfish. Other dolphins in this group included, for the Bahamas, the pygmy killer whale and the more frequently encountered pilot whale, a species than can be seen in the Sea of Abaco.

In some of these photos you can see the distinctive white lips of the MHW Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

Melon-headed whales are notably social animals. They live in large groups – often more than 100-strong (as the expedition found), up to as many as 1000 individuals. Within these large groups, smaller groups of a dozen or so form and stay close as they swim.

Note the ‘Rainbow Blow’ caught in this photoMelon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

MHWs appear to communicate or perhaps to bond by touching flippers. MHWs also associate with other dolphin species, and they have even been recorded with large whales such as humpbacks.

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

Other observed behaviour includes sub-surface resting in numbers, boat-wave riding, and so-called ‘spy hopping’ (above). This last activity may be carried out by several resting animals,  which jump vertically out of the water and splash back again into the ocean (see also the Header image).

Melon-headed whales, Bahamas (BMMRO / Field School)

This video was recorded during the expedition. You’ll get a very good idea of the size of the group from the drone shots as they pull out. I doubt that many people would expect to see such large sea creatures in such numbers – it must be an awesome** sight.

10 MELON-HEADED FACTS WITH WHICH TO ASTOUND YOUR LOVED ONES
  • The MHW’s head is rounded, lacking the obvious beak of more familiar dolphins
  • The darker grey face is sometimes called a ‘mask’
  • Their distinctive white lips are a good identifying feature
  • They are capable of swimming at very fast speeds
  • Like other dolphins, they make series of low jumps out of the water as they swim
  • Their groups often contain 100 individuals, up to as many as 1000
  • An adult grows to around 3m / 10′ long
  • They live for at least 20 years, and females may live as long as 30 years
  • As with many certaceans, their favourite food is squid
  • Oh, did I mention that they are really dolphins and not whales at all?

CREDITS: all fantastic photos & the original of the video clip – © BMMRO /  Field School

** In its true and original meaning of ‘inspiring wonder and awe’ (historically, in a religious sense), rather than the diluted modern usage as in ‘awesome pizza’ or ‘awesome selfie’

THE PRINCE OF WHALES: BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO


Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

THE PRINCE OF WHALES: BLAINVILLE’S BEAKED WHALES IN ABACO

There’s a strange affinity between humans and whales. Humans seem to think so, anyway – and whales seem to tolerate them amiably, perhaps now that the decimation of their populations by humans is (largely) a thing of the past. The Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular are in the mainstream of progressive cetacean research, led by the BMMRO at Sandy Point.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

One of the speciality research species is the Blainville’s Beaked Whale. These magnificent creatures are deep divers, and although they are found in many parts of the world, the Bahamas is one of only 3 locations with a significant population for study. Most of the whales here were photographed within sight of land (and a few with the Castaway Island Disney Cruise Ship visible on the horizon!).

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

I’ve been lucky enough to be on the BMMRO research vessel on a beaked whale outing – and luckier still that we were able to spend plenty of time with a group of them, including some males. The header image is of a mature male with his huge teeth that protrude upwards from the lower jaw, and in time become encrusted with barnacles.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

The whales were quite undisturbed by our presence – indeed they behaved much like dolphins, circling the boat and swimming under it; moving away and returning. This was an opportunity to count the whales, to identify those that had already been recorded, and to document any new ones. Each whale has its own unique pattern of marks, striations and in some cases healed wounds. The pair below are a good example.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

Also, the whales have individually distinctive dorsal fins, with nicks and tears that also act as a means of identification. These can often be made out from a distance with powerful binoculars or photographed with a long lens for later analysis (this ID method also works reliably for dolphins).

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

Beaked whales often bear the healed scars from the gouging bites of COOKIE-CUTTER SHARKS, a vicious little species that I recently featured. The distinctive circular scars on the back of the whale below result from encounters with these unpleasant creatures.

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

Finally, the photo below. It has no merit, photographically speaking, but I love the way that sometimes a ‘risk’ shot – into the sun, perhaps – produces rather magical effects. The unexpected ‘sea stars’ were a bonus!

Blainville's Beaked Whale, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / BMMRO)

All photos: Keith Salvesen / BMMRO