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)

WATER DOGS: THE POTCAKES OF SANDY POINT, ABACO


potcakes-at-sandy-point-abaco-1

WATER DOGS: THE POTCAKES OF SANDY POINT, ABACO

Sandy Point is the absolute end. Literally. Abaco’s only highway runs 120 miles from north to south. Towards the end, it hooks around to the west, then back north a short distance to the small community. You can drive on right through the settlement, with its criss-crossing side streets. Best stop driving when you see the ocean: you’ve run out of road.

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Sandy Point is home to the renowned Nancy’s culinary establishment, maybe a half-hour drive from the previous place you could get a meal along the highway. It’s that remote. The menu is elementary, the Kaliks are cold, the view from the verandah is out to the wide sea and the pelicans smashing down into the water off the sand bars. And sooner or later you will find a dog’s head in your lap. This is not part of an unordered Abaconian special menu with a Godfather theme; it’s a potcake looking for chicken. Or fish. Or chips. Or anything edible really.

potcakes-at-sandy-point-abaco-3potcakes-at-sandy-point-abaco-9

The origins of these ‘community dogs’ – no one’s and everyone’s – are many and various, just like their assorted shapes, sizes and colours. You can read about their history, the reason for their name, and about ‘Amigo’, the most famous potcake of all, HERE. There are many of these semi-feral dogs on the island, slinking around the settlements and even the main town. They have a tough life. They are generally ignored or shooed away. But in Sandy Point at least, they seem healthy and well-fed. Nancy’s may have something to do with it…

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The potcakes of Sandy Point make the beach and the sea their playground. If you walk along the strand and round the point, they may tag along for a while. Then they get bored and rush off. When the tide is low, they will trot along the exposed sandbars right out into the sea. Or chase each other into the sea. Or maybe just relax and watch an endemic Bahama swallow flit past.

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There are active potcake rescue schemes aimed at rehoming strays. Spay and neuter clinics are regularly held. The aim seems to be to keep the numbers down with benign control rather than anything more radical. And rehomed animals make excellent pets, being “intelligent, loyal, calm, and resilient”. I’m guessing the potcakes of Sandy Point reckon they have a pretty good life as it is. 

potcakes-at-sandy-point-abaco-12

AND FINALLY… here is a video with a difference: Salty Dog the potcake goes mad on a beach – wearing a GoPro! Great idea…

Credits: All photos by the management

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

“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

STANDIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY: GREAT BLUE HERON ON ABACO


Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 2

STANDIN’ ON THE DOCK OF THE BAY: GREAT BLUE HERON ON ABACO

The occasion: a trip to Sandy Point for a lunch party at the legendary Nancy’s in honour of  Sandy Walker at the end of his 5 years as manager of the Delphi Club. A pair of brown pelicans on the nearby dock were clumsily flying around, diving, perching, drying their feathers, then repeating the cycle. In a quiet moment I slipped away to watch them – and a Great Blue Heron landed quite close by me. So as well as taking photos of the pelicans, I pointed the camera at the heron from time to time. My favourite view is of it standing proudly on the edge of the dock, with the truly azure sea behind it (header and final image).

Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 6

THE PERILS OF A CAMERA UPGRADE

[PHOTOGRAPHIC INTERLUDE – SKIP IF EASILY BORED BY SUCH THINGS]

I don’t have a fancy camera. I would never get the settings right before the bird had flown. Or died, even. So I had been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ45 kindly given to me by Mrs RH in a benign moment, possibly Christmas. Then I made a classic error of upgrading to an FZ72 with an alleged massive 60X zoom. Brilliant, I thought. Big mistake. My old camera has a Leica lens. Used with care and a lens extension (zeugma score!), it is / I am occasionally capable of taking pin-sharp photos. The upgrade camera’s lens turned out not to be a Leica. Almost all the shots I took were ‘soft’, the more so using the zoom. A soft photo taken with a less good lens, zoomed 60X, will never be a better photo. Just an even softer one. I wish I’d had Old Faithful with me instead. When we got home, I immediately dug out OF and sold 60X disappointment. OF is now reinstated as my BF.  

The shots of this heron mostly turned out fairly well, largely because it stayed quite close to me. It flew off a couple of times, then returned to the edge of the dock. Here are a few close-up views of the heron selected from the various pics I took, showing some of the details of this fine bird. Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 3 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 4 Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 5Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 7Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 10 Then I remembered why I was meant to be at Sandy Point, and went back to Nancy’s for conch fritters and a Kalik or two well OK make that three… Great Blue Heron, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith Salvesen 11

ROLLING HARBOUR MUSICAL DIGRESSION

Otis Redding recorded ‘Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay’, arguably his greatest moment, in 1967 a matter of days before he died in a plane crash. The record became the first ever posthumous US Chart #1 (#3 in UK). I’ve dug out a video compo by the excellent Rhino outfit that disinters or at least recycles gems from our musical heritage. It’s not just the voice of Otis Redding that makes this song so poignant and so good – Steve Cropper’s guitar is outstanding too.

Guitarists out there – you want a ‘Chase Chart’, don’t you?

Ch_6_Fig_114http://www.howmusicreallyworks.com

A rare photo of Sandy (centre back row, sunnies on cap) smilingSandy at Sandy Point

Photo Credits: RH, er… that it…

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