BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND


Brown Pelican, Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)

BROWN PELICANS ON ABACO & BEYOND

Six more sleeps. That’s all. Suddenly, a trip that seemed ages away is rushing towards us. Or, to put it more plausibly science-wise, we are rushing towards it. Abaco beckons, with bonefish, rays, sharks, reef fishes, whales, dolphins, birds and butterflies to investigate. Plus Kaliks to consume. 

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Tony Hepburn)

Idly thinking along those lines and vaguely plotting the first few days, took me to Sandy Point, home of the BMMRO (Bahamas Marine Mammal Research Organisation) and of course the legendary Nancy’s, the restaurant at the end of the road. From where it is a short step to the dock on which the pelicans gather and use as a launch pad for their fishing dives.

I photographed this bird at the end of the SP dock, looking rather bedraggled after a diveBrown Pelican (m), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Note the significant plumage differences between the male (above) & this femaleBrown Pelican (f), Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

I recently read somewhere that the brown pelican is (or has become) quite uncommon in the Bahamas. On Abaco it is a permanent resident breeding species, so a drop in numbers equals fewer nests, fewer chicks and… fewer numbers. It’s a classic cycle towards serious population decline and all that is implied. Has anyone noticed an apparent reduction in numbers, I wonder? Comments welcome.

Brown Pelican, Abaco (Woody Bracey)

Brown Pelican, Sandy Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The pelicans above were all photographed on Abaco. The two below were not, but are both by exceptional photographers. One, Phil Lanoue, specialises in dramatic sequences, and his work features elsewhere in this blog. The final image was sportingly uploaded by Alan Schmierer from Flickr into the ‘public domain’.

Coming in to land…Brown Pelican coming in to land (Phil Lanoue)

While we are on Abaco, I plan to keep posting as and when, subject to connectivity (always a proviso in the Bahamas). My big hope is that the piping plovers that were on the beach last year and returned this season, will have resisted the increasingly insistent call to fly north to the breeding grounds. If they could just hang on for just a few more days… 

Brown Pelican preening (Alan Schmierer)

Credits: Tom Sheley (1); Tony Hepburn (2); Keith Salvesen (3, 4, 6); Woody Bracey (5); Phil Lanoue (7); Alan Schmierer (8); Birdorable (cartoon)

BIRDS: BIG MOUTHFULS, VARIED DIETS & PLAYING WITH FOOD…


Anhinga eating fish (Phil Lanoue)

BIRDS: BIG MOUTHFULS, VARIED DIETS & PLAYING WITH FOOD…

Anhingas are so-called ‘darters’. You won’t have seen one on Abaco. Or else, if you have, you’ve had a rare avian treat. These cormorant-like birds are far from unusual in Florida, all round the Gulf of Mexico, on Cuba and generally in the West Indies, and throughout the northern parts of South America. But somehow they have only very rarely bothered to wing their way across the relatively short expanse of water that separates their usual stamping ground in Florida and the northern Bahamas. I very rarely post about non-Abaco birds, unless for comparison. However, on the slender basis that one or two anhinga sightings have been made on Abaco since 1950 (they are classified as V5, i.e. vanishingly rare vagrants) , I am including PHIL LANOUE’S wonderful photo of one trying to get a gob-stoppingly large spiny fish down its throat. And making that an excuse to show more of his wonderful bird photos, including one of his renowned sequences.

BIG MOUTHFULS

By way of contrast to the anhinga above, this brown pelican has opened wide, but has disappointingly little to show for his huge gulp. Just a tiddler, and it really doesn’t look like it will manage to jump out of that capacious gullet…

Brown Pelican fishing (Phil Lanoue)

Here’s a better meal: a great egret has got hold of a massive shrimp. It won’t have any trouble getting it down…Great Egret eating fish (Phil Lanoue)

VARIED DIETS

As the great egret above demonstrates, fish are not the only prey species for the ‘fish-eating’ birds. These cormorants are happily mixing up their diet.Cormorant - varied diet 1 (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 3 (Phil Lanoue)

I’ll take a side-order of salad with that…Cormorant feeding (Phil Lanoue)Cormorant - varied diet 5 (Phil Lanoue)

PLAYING WITH FOOD

Regrettably, the cormorant with the eel, above, decided to play with its food before eventually swallowing it. Here are three more images from Phil’s sequence of the Eel Meal.

Chucking my dinner around a bitCormorant - varied diet 4 (Phil Lanoue)

Wearing my food as a hatCormorant eating eel (Phil Lanoue)

My whole meal seems to have gone to my head…Cormorant - varied diet 6 (Phil Lanoue)

All phantastic photos by Phil. Check out his website https://phillanoue.com

PELICAN BRIEF (2): SANDY POINT, ABACO


Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 04

PELICAN BRIEF (2): SANDY POINT, ABACO

The small settlement of Sandy Point is literally at the end of the road. Beyond the limit of the tarmac lies the shallow sea. The Highway – Abaco’s only main road – extends the length of the skinny island, 120 miles roughly north to south with occasional side roads to settlements, dirt roads, forestry tracks, and something a bit more significant for Marsh Harbour – a roundabout, a single set of working traffic lights, the only ones on the island. There’s a second set but I have never seen them working. I don’t think anyone ever has. Maybe they were never even wired up.

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7

We went to Sandy Point for lunch with friends at the famous (though not yet world-famous) Nancy’s, with its reliably comforting menu of a choice of the same 3 dishes permanently on offer (fresh fish, conch, or chicken), plus Kalik or Sands beer. Simple yet satisfying. Sandy Point is a great place for birding, both sea / shore / wading birds, and land birds. Ospreys are often around. And brown pelicans. At high tide they dive off the dock (see HERE). At low tide, when the long sand bars are just visible above the water level, the pelicans use them as base for their fishing operations, often some 200 yards from the shoreline.

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 11

We were watching 5 pelicans doing just that – lazily flapping aloft from the water in their clumsy way, then turning swiftly and diving with some elegance before smashing into the water for fish, returning in triumph or sorrow to the sand bar to eat… or plan the next foray. Then one detached itself from the group and flew closer to us for a single dive in deeper water, before flapping heavily back to the sand bar.

I took a sequence of photos with ‘Hated Camera’ (having drowned ‘Loved Camera’ in a minor marine mishap). As I have since discovered, ‘HC’ was on the wrong setting the whole time – by which I mean several days (some small but important side switch I’d neglected to remember). Hence the pelican images are in small format because I am slightly ashamed of the quality… There’s a theory about cartoons that there are two possible reasons for pairing them together on a magazine page: (1) they are each doubly funny and therefore only need half the space; or (2) they are only half as funny and so two are needed to double the overall chuckle quotient…

So here is the pelican dive sequence – unsuccessful in terms of fish – with the bird then flying back past us to the sand bar to rejoin his 4 buddies. I’ve put 2 images per line – either because (on the cartoon principle above) they are so good they only need half the allotted space or (hint: this is the truth) they are of such indifferent image quality that I am too embarrassed to enlarge them…

Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 01 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 02 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 03 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 04 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 05 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 06 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 07 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 08 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 10 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 11 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 12 Pelican Dive, Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 13

In the final image you can just make out a spooky ghost ship on the horizon. This is the huge vessel moored at the ‘Disney’ island, historically named Gorda Cay but now ‘pirated up’ to Castaway Cay. Arrrrrrrr!

Credits: all images RH & ‘Hated Camera’; Mrs RH kindly being encouraging about the results

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”


Brown Pelican 1 (Phil Lanoue)

“A PELICAN GOES INTO A LOW DIVE AND…”

… is a promising start to a pelican-based variant on the “Man walks into a Bar…” joke. But in fact there’s a serious point to all this, illustrated with a set of Phil Lanoue’s wonderful ‘bird sequence’ photos. The Brown Pelican is a permanent breeding resident on Abaco, not exactly common but locally quite easy to find. For example, certain docks are often used by them as diving platforms as they feed. Sandy Point is a good place for this. At Delphi we see them passing over the bay, flying high with slow, heavy wing-beats, but sadly I have yet to see one fishing off the rocks there.

Brown pelicans feed by diving for fish. By contrast, White Pelicans (a rarity on Abaco) feed in a quite different way. They forage communally and cooperatively by coralling fish and picking them off from the surface or just below it. A quick online search shows very little evidence of white pelicans diving for food or indeed just for the hell of it. But have a look now at a Brown Pelican landing and going straight into a low dive… to catch a meal.**

Brown Pelican 2 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 3 (Phil Lanoue)Brown Pelican 4 (Phil Lanoue)

I unreservedly recommend Phil’s website HERE for the consistently excellence of his photography, especially his action sequences; and for the way he captures the mood with apposite commentary.

**I completely realise that this is totally lame as the punchline for a bar-room joke

A QUARTER OF A MILLION GLIMPSES OF ABACO…


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)

A QUARTER OF A MILLION GLIMPSES OF ABACO…

Well here’s a rum do. About four years ago, this somewhat minority interest blog emerged ‘mewling and puking’¹ into the world, guided by an incompetent male midwife whose basic training had been about 4 weeks of exposure to Abaco, its fishing, its wildlife, its geography and its history. ‘Bananaquit’ might as well have meant taking up a plantain-free diet. ‘Grassquit’ might have been the local word for ‘keep off the lawn’. And that’s before all the flowers. And the reef fish. And everything else that turned up during the storm-wracked voyage of discovery via polydamus swallowtails, manatees, spider wasps and batfish that led slowly to the calmer waters of ‘rather better informed (if no wiser)’. 

Anyway, at midnight last night some unknown person kindly made the 250,000th visit to the blog, a target that once seemed inconceivable. In the past month, the 1000th person also signed up as a follower, another source of amazement. The reality is that despite Abaco being a sparsely-populated microdot island in a huge world, there are a great many people on the island or associated with it who are passionate about it and its extraordinarily diverse natural history. That knowledge makes curating this blog both easy and pleasurable. 
RH Stats clip

I checked my stats for the last year to find out where hits from the top 10 countries – and for fun the bottom 1o – came from. Here’s the answer. Rather shamefully there was also a country I had never knowingly heard of, Palau (Micronesia). There follows a selection of a few photographs that have been popular over the years, mostly my own but the underwater ones are from Melinda Riger and Virginia Cooper of Grand Bahama Scuba.

Top 10                                                                   Bottom 10
Top 10 countries jpg   Bottom 10 countries jpg

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Bananaquit & palm, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Western Spindalis, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Red-winged Blackbird, Abaco, Bahamas  (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco  (Keith Salvesen)Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)French Angelfish (juv), Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Four-eyed Butterflyfish ©Melinda Riger @GBSCowfish ©Melinda Riger @ GB ScubaOctopus ©Melinda Riger @ Grand Bahama ScubaNassau Grouper, Bahamas (Melinda Riger)Blacktip Shark ©Virginia Cooper @ G B Scuba copy 2Curly-tail Lizard, Delphi, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Atala Hairstreak Butterfly, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Bird of Paradise Flower (Strelitzia) Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Hibiscus : Polydamus Swallowtail, Delphi Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Yellow Elder Hope Town, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SEARCH TERMS

The most popular searches – omitting posts about hurricanes, which always generate a lot of traffic – have concerned Abaco Parrots, Lignum Vitae, Sea Glass, the Loxahatchee poster series, Tarantula Hawk Wasps, Sea Biscuits / Urchins, Yellow Elder, Parrotfish, Shipwrecks, Hutias, Hole-in-the-Wall, Lionfish, Remora, and Abaco Maps. The most leftfield search of all was ‘How dispose of dead bodies?’, by someone who had clearly strayed into the wrong category of website…

A FEW OF THE MOST POPULAR POSTS / PAGES
SEA SHELLS
SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: DON’T MESS WITH THESE GUYS    
ABACO FACTS (including likelihood of adverse shark encounter or shipwreck)    
ABACO MAPS    
LIGNUM VITAE – BAHAMAS NATIONAL TREE    
YELLOW ELDER – THE BAHAMAS NATIONAL FLOWER    
SEA URCHINS & SEA BISCUITS – BEACHCOMBING TREASURES ON ABACO    
ABACO FOOD & DRINK (cook hog / bonefish; clean a conch; sip an Abaco cocktail / Goombay Smash)
ABACO & HOLE-IN-THE-WALL, BAHAMAS: A SHORT HISTORY IN MAPS    
PINEAPPLES: SYMBOLS OF WELCOME & WEALTH (ALSO, DELICIOUS)    
ABACO ISLAND BOA: THE ONLY ABACO SNAKE    
WHALES & DOLPHINS    
ABACO PARROTS    
FLORA

It would be strange to end this little celebration without a tip of the hat to Peter Mantle, old friend and genial doyen of the Delphi Club, for his wholehearted encouragement and support for the production and publication of THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO. This hefty tome, published in March 2014, showcases the wonderful and varied avian life on Abaco and has proved very popular – indeed well beyond our expectations. Although I appear nominally as author on the cover, it is in fact an extraordinary collaborative effort by some 30 people. The book’s success further demonstrates the commitment of Abaconians and other who love the island to Abaco’s rich natural heritage in an age of  rapid change; and provides another good incentive for me to continue with the blog. Next stop: 500,000!

¹ © W. Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet Act 2 Sc. 7

dcbg2ba-jacket-grab-for-pm-v2-copyShark Gif

“PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO


Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 12

 “PELICAN BRIEF”: BROWN PELICANS AT SANDY POINT, ABACO

The Brief today is to write about Brown Pelicans at Sandy Point. And to shoehorn in the traditional titular pun somehow (job done!). For those unfamiliar with Abaco, SP is the end of the road. Literally. The island has one highway 120 miles long, mostly straight, from north to nearly south where it curves abruptly west for a while, past the airfield, and when it reaches the ocean at Rocky Point there’s a 90º turn. For a couple of miles, you travel north again into Sandy Point… then stop when you see the sea ahead of you. Dead end. Time to park and explore… 

Abaco Road Map

Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 4

The birding at SP can be very rewarding. Depending on the time of year, you may see ospreys, tropicbirds, heron and egrets of various sorts, kestrels, anis and plenty of shorebirds. The last are found on the narrow beaches and at low tide on the sandbars close to the shore. On the more distant sandbars in Spring, you may see a colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds (or Man-0-War birds), the males with their amazing ‘look-at-me’ bright red throat-balloons (‘gular pouches’) inflated to enhance their wooing prospects. This is exactly the time you’ll realise you haven’t brought your binoculars with you…  Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 9 We’d gone to a (very) informal lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s, but there was activity on the nearby dock that caught my eye. A pair of pelicans were fishing from it, then drying in the sun, then having a little fly around. I only had a rather underwhelming camera with me, so I did what I could in a short time before returning to the matter in hand. Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 8Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 6Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 7 Although I watched the birds diving off the dock a few times, I never actually saw them catch anything. Maybe they had already swallowed some hapless little fish before returning to the dock. I was reminded of a poem by a poet called James Montgomery. Here’s his vivid and perhaps overwrought description of pelican feeding habits: Nimbly they seized and secreted their prey, Alive and wriggling in the elastic net, Which Nature hung beneath their grasping beaks; Till, swoln, with captures, the unwieldy burden Clogg’d their slow flight, as heavily to land, These mighty hunters of the deep return’d. There on the cragged cliffs they perch’d at ease, Gorging their hapless victims one by one; Then full and weary, side by side, they slept, Till evening roused them to the chase again. James Montgomery (4 November 1771 – 30 April 1854): Pelican Island, 1828 (canto IV, l. 141)

Watching the water intentlyBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 10

Check out that ‘gular pouch’… Pelicans, like frigatebirds, have them – cormorants too.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 14

After each sortie a certain amount of shaking down, feather fluffing & general drying-off took placeBrown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 13

Although these pelicans look generally rather clumsy and ponderous both in flight and on land, they are surprisingly quick and agile in the dive. Occasionally, however, the take-off was a bit ragged… Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 16 Usually the male took the tallest post from which to survey the scene, but occasionally the female beat him to a good vantage point.Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 17 I’d never seen pelicans so close-to before. At Delphi they can be seen flying lazily past over the bay, quite high. I’ve seen one in Hope Town, but some distance away. So it was a huge thrill to be able to watch these two birds from the dock itself. You’ll see that the female was ringed (banded), but the male was not. Very soon we’ll be back on Abaco. I’m hoping the pelicans will be at Sandy Point again. And the ospreys. And the Frigatebirds.  And that I’ll have remembered the binoculars. And that the Kaliks at Nancy’s will be ice-cold…  All photos, RH

It’s a poor photo, but it illustrates the huge wingspan compared to body length…Brown Pelicans, Sandy Point, Abaco 15

CAN A PELICAN? THE HELICAN!


A taster for a future post about Brown Pelicans when I have a more reliable internet connection than Abaco’s rather intermittent service… These two birds were taken a few days ago on the jetty at Sandy Point, Abaco. In due course there’ll be more about these astonishing birds, which were plunge-diving off the jetty for fish.Pelican Sandy Point AbacoPelican Sandy Point Abaco 3Pelican Sandy Point Abaco 2