WHY “ROLLING HARBOUR”? THIS MORNING’S VIEW…


Rolling Harbour, Abaco (Delphi Club Beach)Click to enlarge

SANDERLINGS ON ABACO: GOTTA LOVE ‘EM


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SANDERLINGS ON ABACO: GOTTA LOVE ‘EM

Sanderlings. Wind them up with the concealed key under their left wing, and they will charge up and down the beach for an hour or two, pausing only to rip some small unsuspecting mollusk or crustacean from its sandy bed. These birds are tiny. And smart. They know all about how a retreating tide will expose the goodies. They are even happy to plunge their heads right under water (#2). They’re not really jumpy, if you don’t push your luck or have a dog with you. The best ploy of all is to find a flock near the tideline, choose a place to lie comfortably in dry sand (with a camera, I mean, otherwise you may look look a bit strange), and wait for them to come into range. Usually they are so busy, what with all that rushing around and feeding, that they will ignore you. So the hard part, after you have taken some photos, is catching the little so-and-sos to wind them up again…

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VIDEO 1 In which we notice the scuttling and scooting around of sanderlings on a mission

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VIDEO 2 In which we admire bathtime in a tide-pool and assorted comings & goings…

All photos and movies RH

“THE ADMIRABLE CHITON” (A DELPHI BEACH MYSTERY)


Fuzzy Chiton, Delphi, Abaco (Kasia Reid)

“THE ADMIRABLE CHITON” (A DELPHI BEACH MYSTERY)

The beach at Delphi is good for combing. Most of Abaco’s beaches are too, for that matter. You can find Kasia’s beachcombing page HERE. Last month 2 guests, Linda and Jan, went exploring on the beach and returned with a handful of mystery items they had found under the clumps of seaweed. These were clearly neither complete nor broken shells, and even after some research in books and online I remained baffled. They were obviously parts of some water-based species… but what parts, anatomically speaking? And what species?

Fuzzy Chiton valves (segments), Delphi Beach, Abaco, Bahamas

So I contacted Colin Redfern, Bahamian sea shell expert and author of a magisterial tome on the subject. His response was typically swift and definitive: 

The ladies have found some beach-worn valves from the common Fuzzy chiton, which was so nicely photographed by Kasia on your April 12, 2012 entry – (the one that included fecal pellets) [See Header]. As you know, the meat from this species is eaten by Bahamians, who discard the unwanted shell. The individual plates then become separated by wave action and normal deterioration. Abaco has a pretty good selection of chiton species, and individual valves from some of the other species are sometimes found on beaches.
Fuzzy Chiton, wiki

Chitons (pron. kytens) are marine molluscs with a great many species worldwide, from very small to quite large. Their shell comprises 8 interlocking and overlapping curved plates known as ‘valves’ that provide a flexible protection, and articulate as the creature moves. Chitons – at least some species – can even curl up into a protective ball. The plates are held together by a ‘girdle’ surrounding the animal.

Acanthopleura_granulata_(West_Indian_fuzzy_chitons)_(San_Salvador_Island,_Bahamas) James St. John

Fossil records show that these primitive-looking animals derive from the Devonian period – or even Ordovician. They remind me of trilobites, even older creatures from the Cambrian period that used to fascinate me at school when I was small and paying attention. The name chiton derives from Latin word for mollusc, which itself comes from an older Greek word meaning a tunic. Which they in no way resemble.

Fuzzy Chiton, Abaco (Kasia Reid)

After a chiton dies, the valves which make up the eight-part shell come apart because the girdle no longer holds them together and these the plates may wash up in beach drift, to be found by Linda and Jan. The individual shell plates are sometimes known as “butterfly shells” due to their shape.

A DOZEN CHITON FACT TO AMAZE YOUR FRIENDS WITH

  • Chitons are also known as ‘sea cradles’ or ‘coat-of-mail shells
  • Their shell consists of 8 plates / valves so flexible that they can even curl into a ball
  • They move with a muscular ‘foot’, and use it to cling onto rocks like a limpet
  • They have no definable head, no tail and no eyes, onlyphotoreceptor cell clusters’
  • The mouth on on the underside of the chiton
  • It contains a sort of tongue – a radula – with rows of teeth, each with 17 (why 17?)
  • They use the radula to scrape the rock substrate for algae and similar
  • A chiton’s digestive system produces neat little fecal packages like white pills
  • Its anus is next to its foot, a design mercifully not found in humans
  • I learn that chitons “lack a cerebral ganglion”. I think this means, no brain as such
  • However they do have a primitive ‘homing’ ability too complex to summarise…
  • Chitons are eaten by people mainly in the West Indies and the Philippines

Chiton, Abaco 2 (Kasia Reid)

WHAT? YOU CAN EAT THEM?**

If you are asking that question, you perhaps read right through the 12 facts to the very last one. If so, you deserve an answer and indeed a recipe for Chitons aka ‘Sea Cockroaches’. And who better to provide it than the brilliantly-named PSYKDELIASMITH Click the link to find out more.

**CAUTION As a couple of people have rightly pointed out (thanks Liann and Julias) since I posted this, not all chitons are edible. Some are poisonous. So before you think of a culinary chiton caper, best check that you have got an edible one

A chiton on the move, very slowly, and apparently halted by an encounter with a nerite

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Colin Redfern kindly sent me a pdf of the chiton section of his book. Of the fuzzy chiton he writes: “Occurrence: Very common intertidally on rocky shorelines. Known locally as a Curb, with the meaty foot used as an alternative to conch in salads. Gutted specimens or disarticulated valves consequently common along shorelines.” Which is just where this post began.

FUZZY CHITON scientific doc (Colin Redfern)

And if you want to know about the title and its link to Peter Pan, click THE ADMIRABLE CRICHTON

POST SCRIPT This post has generated quite a lot of comment on Facebook. Here are a few, plus an amazing discovery in Hope Town
  • “Commonly know as a curb, they are edible (raw) you make a salad like you do with conch , delicious !!!” (Rosalie Pyfrom)
  • True some are poisonous, but your have to know which ones!! I was showed as a child which were good from bad!!” (Janice Carey Hall) 
  •  “Very delicious” (Cantrell Walker)
  • “Lets not forget the poisonous ones!” (Julias Sawyer)
  •  “Don’t mess wit my curbs, nom nom”  + “Definitely do NOT eat the very large ones with the bumpy rim”.(Liann Key Kaighin)
  • “Curb stew is a Bahamian food that has since the loyalist arrived” (Steve Roessler)
 Gary Richardson Jr.'s photo.

Then Gary Richardson Jr added a photo of what must be a pearl, found in a curb in Hope Town. 

 To which I replied “Well that’s a surprise! Interesting find. Did a bit of research. Apparently all shelled molluscs are capable of producing ‘pearls’ – though they have no value. So this must be a chiton pearl…”
Credits: Linda & Jan for their beachcombing finds; Colin Redfern for his ID & info enabling this post (and his continuing interest); Kasia Reid; Hans Hillewaert & James St John (wiki uploads)

“WE WANT THE SAME THING”: SANDERLINGS À GO-GO


Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 2

“WE WANT THE SAME THING”: SANDERLINGS À GO-GO

Good grief, this is awful. Suddenly I’m channelling Belinda Carlisle, raucous chanteuse and former lead vokes with the Go-Gos. She has not impinged on my cerebral cortex for, oh, 20 years. And even then, not of my own volition. Yet as soon as I downloaded and checked on-screen this sequence of sanderling photos taken as they foraged greedily on the Delphi beach, a spooky thing happened. The dread words and tune of ‘We Want The Same Thing’ crackled round my synapses. Listen! Can you hear it too?

It should of course have been “We Want The Same Crustaceans, Mollusks and Worms”, but no one has written that song. Yet. And I am now left with Belinda’s ear-worm… and other ones from that exhausting back catalogue are crowding in to join it, not least “Circle in the Sand” and “Heaven is that Delphi Place on Earth”…

“We Want the Same Thing”, though we have an entire beach to forage on…Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 3 Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 4 Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 5 Sanderling Trio, Delphi Beach, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) 6

OPTIONAL MUSICAL DIVERSION (YOU WERE WARNED)

All photos RH on the Delphi Beach, Abaco; musical stuff inspired by Ms Carlisle. Weird.

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: THE DISTAFF SIDE


American Redstart (f), Abaco 6 (Charles Skinner)

AMERICAN REDSTARTS ON ABACO: THE DISTAFF SIDE

I have a feeling that people are more familiar with the male American redstart than the female. The male’s striking near-black and orange livery is memorable. The female’s equivalent brown and yellow colour scheme is a little more subtle (or ‘drab’, which is a go-to bird book description where the male of a species is flamboyant; I prefer ‘subtle’ as a politer description). Charlie Skinner managed to get some lovely shots of females in the pines and scrub at the back of the Delphi beach. 

American Redstart (f), Abaco 1 (Charles Skinner)American Redstart (f), Abaco 2 (Charles Skinner)

These birds are one of the 37 warbler species recorded for Abaco, where they are common winter residents. Generally they start to arrive in October, and some are usually still around in March. It is believed that the flashing tail-spreading of both sexes, shown in some of these images, acts either to attract insects; or to confuse them in some way. I can’t think how or why. I imagine the tail-fanning also forms part of the redstart courtship rituals. Incidentally (*fun fact alert*) male redstarts are known to raise two families simultaneously, the nests being a convenient distance apart so that his deceit remains his secret.

American Redstart (f), Abaco 5 (Charles Skinner)American Redstart (f), Abaco 3 (Charles Skinner)

This pretty juvenile is impossible to sex at this age. Could go either way. (Photo: Becky Marvil)American Redstart (juv), Abaco (Becky Marvil)

For comparison, the more familiar male (and more brash – typical). (Photo: Gerlinde Taurer)Bahamas-Great Abaco_6374a_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

Photo credits: Charlie Skinner, Becky Marvil, Gerlinde Taurer 

ECHINODERMS, DOLLAR DOVES & PETRIFIED BISCUITS


Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 6

Sand Dollar from Abaco containing 5 miniature white doves…

ECHINODERMS, DOLLAR DOVES & PETRIFIED BISCUITS

Echinoderms (Gr. ‘Hedgehog Skin’) comprise a large variety of sea creatures characterised (mostly) by radial symmetry, often five-way. For Abaconians, the most frequently encountered are starfish, sea urchins, sand dollars and sea biscuits. I am going to look at two particular aspects of dollars and biscuits, conscious that my illustrative photos of white objects were stupidly taken against a white background.

DOLLAR DOVES

I’m sure all Bahamians know or are aware of at least one version of the famous ‘Sand Dollar’ poem, in which the various characteristics of the test (the skeleton of the creature) are given religious significance. One verse of the poem may be puzzling: “Now break the centre open And here you will release The five white doves awaiting To spread good will and peace”.

Recently, Senior Granddaughter (10 this week) was looking at some Abaco sand dollars in her unfeasibly huge collection of shells. She picked one up, shook it and it rattled. She said a friend at school had told her that a rattling sand dollar has ‘doves’ inside it, and asked if we could break it open and see. I’ve learnt that it is useless to argue with her – she has the tenacity of a trial lawyer – so we did. This is what we found.

Sand Dollar with a spiky interior like a white cave with stalagmites and stalagtitesSand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 4

Five white doves (in fact, the separated parts of the creature’s feeding apparatus)Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 1

Two broken pieces showing where the doves are centrally locatedSand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 5

A single dove (best viewed the other way up for full-on doveliness)Sand Dollar Doves (Keith Salvesen) 3

The photo below, from Pinterest, shows the ‘mouth’ with its 5 dove-parts intact, an arrangement called ‘Aristotle’s Lantern’.

Sand Dollar : Aristotle's Lantern : Doves (Pinterest)

PETRIFIED BISCUITS

In common parlance ‘petrified’ is an extreme version of ‘terrified’. Literally, it means ‘turned to stone’ (L. Petrus, a rock). It is descriptive of a state of fossilisation, where an animal skeleton or dead wood or plant matter turns over aeons into stone. Undaunted by her Doves discovery, SG (a most inquisitive girl) also discovered a box containing random stones and fossils. She found these two items:

Fossilised sea biscuitsPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 1

A closer look at the pair of rocksPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 5 Petrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 4

The undersides of the fossils above – looking like stones but with some tell-tale small holesPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 2 Petrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 3

A close-up of the pale biscuitPetrified Sea Biscuit (Keith Salvesen) 6

Sea biscuits as everyone knows them, on the beach at Delphi – skeletons but not yet fossilsSea Biscuits, Delphi, Abaco (Clare Latimer) copy

A ‘modern’ sea biscuit in close-upSea Biscuit, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce) copy

FUN FACT

Florida has an unofficial but proposed State Fossil, the ‘Sea Biscuit (Eocene Age)’. I didn’t know it before, but it turns out that around 40 States have State Fossils. Whatever next? State Bacteria?

SO HOW OLD MIGHT A PETRIFIED BISCUIT BE?

The fossil biscuits I have looked at, from Florida to Madagascar, are said to come from three specific historic epochs – from the oldest, Jurassic (145m – 201m years ago),  to Eocene (34m – 56m) and Pleistocene (0.01m – 2.6m). 

HOW DOES THAT HELP ANYBODY? BE MORE PRECISE

By all means. Here is an excellent Geochart that gives an idea of the time span. A Jurassic sea biscuit would be more than 145m years old. So maybe the next plan should be to take the 2 petrified sea biscuits plus SG to a museum to see if we can get an idea of their age…geotimescale

All photos ‘in-house’ except the Delphi biscuits, Clare Latimer & the single biscuit Rhonda Pearce; Geochart to be credited asap, mislaid the source…

FEEDER BIRDS AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO


Delphi Club, Rolling Harbour, Abaco aerial

FEEDER BIRDS AT THE DELPHI CLUB, ABACO

The compilation of The Delphi Club Guide to THE BIRDS OF ABACO involved making a few rules and sticking to them. For example, the avian images in the book – and there are a great many –  had to be of birds actually photographed on Abaco or in Abaco waters. Gorgeous pictures from Grand Bahama or New Providence were ruthlessly excluded, however painful it was to do. Some wonderful spoonbill photos taken in Nassau stayed in the ‘Not Use’ folder. The temptation to slip in an non-Abaco whimbrel to fill a whimbrel-shaped space among the shorebirds had to be resisted – even though at the time the last recorded sighting of one on Abaco (no photo) was in 2000…

Bananaquit 2, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Another important restriction was the stipulation that we would only use birds that had been photographed in their natural surroundings, defined as being a place where a particular species might naturally be found. Coppice and shoreline, obviously, but this included utility wires, posts and docks etc for species that habitually use them to perch on or hunt from. However, the rule meant a complete embargo on feeder photos, however winsome a hummingbird might look as it sips sugar water. We extended the principle to include a ban on luring birds into camera-shot with seed or corn trails; and similar ruses beyond the simple whistles and pishes that anyone might use to tempt a bird out of deep cover.

Cuban Emerald coming in to land… and feedingCuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle) 1 Cuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle) 2

The Delphi club is the perfect location for an enviably varied number of species. Its remoteness down a one-mile drive from the Highway, with pine forest giving way to luxuriant coppice, ensures minimal disturbance for the birds including a number of rarer species.  Delphi Club Rolling Harbour Abaco Aerial view

The one-mile white sand curve of the beach sees many shorebirds and seabirds in all seasons. The gardens attract both the usual suspects and less common birds. The building, too, has its resident West Indian Woodpeckers in two nesting boxes under the eaves, thoughtfully provided to discourage the Club’s woodwork from exploratory drilling.

Mr and Mrs Black-faced GrassquitBlack-faced Grassquit (m) Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) Black-faced Grassquit (f) Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

There are a number of seed and sugar water feeders around the place, and bird baths too. It’s a long time since I featured a collection of ‘tame’ birds. This post shows a few of the species that have made Delphi their home.

Mr and Mrs Greater Antillean BullfinchGreater Antillean Bullfinch (m), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Great Antillean Bullfinch. Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Mr and Mrs Painted BuntingPainted Bunting, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Bananaquit: the curved beak makes it easy to use the hummer feeder (see above)Bananaquit (f) Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A Gray Catbird takes a drink… and a bathGray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Gray Catbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Adaptive behaviour from a W I Woodpecker – that long tongue is perfect for the jobWest Indian Woodpecker, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

The turkey vulture takes priority over all smaller birds…Turkey Vulture, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

A red-legged thrush enjoys picking up the seed shrapnel off the ground…Red-legged Thrush Abaco 7

As do rose-breasted grosbeaks and indigo buntingsIndigo Bunting & Grosbeaks, Delphi, Abaco ©C StahalaRose-breasted Grosbeak

Meanwhile, a yellow-crowned night heron takes a drink from the poolYellow-crowned Night Heron, Abaco 9

Credits: all photos RH except aerial shot of Delphi, Peter Brown; the hummers, Peter Mantle; and the buntings / grosbeaks, PM and Caroline Stahala…

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