A recent summer course on Abaco was held in partnership between Elizabeth Whitman (Florida International University) and Friends of the Environment/Frank Kenyon Centre. Participants learned about sea turtle biology and ecology, and discussed potential threats to the vulnerable population. After a classroom session, the team headed out to Snake Cay Creek to carry out a field survey. The turtles caught were measured, weighed, tagged (if not already), and given a general health assessment. Each turtle was then released.
The data captured by such courses is invaluable in the continuing assessment of the health of the local turtle population. In addition, such projects provide a valuable opportunity for people to become involved in a fascinating and rewarding local conservation project – with a literally hands-on experience.
Credits: Beth Whitman, Friends of the Environment, Jacque Cannon, Maureen Collins, Melinda Riger
Today the NOAA and other worldwide ocean guardian organisations are celebrating World Oceans Day. Looking at the websites and FB pages, one message is clear: People Are Rubbish. To put it another way, the global pollution of the oceans is caused solely by humans. The pristine seas and beaches of the world were unsullied until, say, the last 200 years. In 4 or 5 generations, all that has changed irreversibly.
My rather (= very) negative intro is counterbalanced by some more positive news: there are plenty of good guys out there working hard to make a difference to the rising tide of filth polluting the oceans. Clearing seas and beaches of plastic and other debris. Collecting tons and tons of abandoned fishing gear. Rescuing creatures trapped, entangled, injured and engulfed by marine debris and pollutants. Educating adults and – far more importantly – children and young people by actively involving them in their campaigns. Conducting research programmes. Lobbying and protesting. And a lot more besides.
A marine garbage patch: the sea creatures’ view (NOAA)
Abandoned fishing gear: a monk seal that was lucky; and a turtle that wasn’t (NOAA)
Four shearwaters killed by a cone trap. A fifth was rescued (NOAA)
The NOAA and sister organisations carry out massive programmes of clearance of marine debris, with working parties of volunteers who do what they can to deal with an intractable problem.
Elsewhere, some tackle the problems caused by particular types of trash, balloons being an excellent example. I have posted before about BALLOONS BLOW, the brainchild of two sisters who learnt of the serious consequences to wildlife caused by mass balloon releases. Their work has been so effective that increasing numbers of mass releases are being cancelled in favour of other forms of celebration. A minus for balloon-makers of course, but a big plus for wildlife. The BB sisters also keep their own beach clear of the junk brought in on every tide.
And on an individual basis, any old fool can make a tiny difference to a local beach. Here is one such doing just that…
A tangle of balloon strings on Delphi beach
Guinea Schooner Bay: little visited, rarely cleaned. Plastic crap from a 10 foot radius
It’s 07.50 and we are trundling up the one-mile Delphi drive towards the highway in a truck towing the skiff for a day of fishing out on the Marls. We are ‘first boat out’, so the driveway has been peaceful for a while. Suddenly, some way ahead, a dark shape detaches itself from the margin of the coppice and steps into the roadway. Large. Dark brown. Kind of awkward looking. Long legs. Long decurved bill. And the bird I’ve been waiting to see for a long time. A limpkin.
My first sighting of one of the Delphi limpkins
Grabbing the small point ‘n’ shoot I take fishing (far cheaper to drown than an iPh@ne), I leaned out of the open window and fired off some optimistic shoots at the bird, on full (yet feeble) zoom. For what they are worth**, here are a few – and will you look at the toes on the creature!
Limpkins (Aramus guarauna) have lived near the top end of the Delphi drive for several seasons, but they and I have never coincided. I haven’t even heard their weird screaming call. The guides sometimes see them when they first arrive each day, but limpkins are very shy, unsociable birds that keep themselves to themselves. Unless you see them cross a track, you might never notice them. To make matters more difficult, they are mainly “nocturnally and crepuscular”, so they are not generally active during the day.
Limpkin at Gilpin Point
ONE OF A KIND
The limpkin is a species of long-billed, long-legged wading bird, and is unrelated to herons, cranes and rails despite appearances. In fact, it has the honour to be the sole member of its taxonomic family. They may be found near ponds, in mangroves, in dense coppice or on the edge of pinewoods. They move jerkily, with a flickering tail and, as with any ID-cooperative bird, to see one is to know one.
TEN LIMPID LIMPKIN FACTS TO ENTHRAL PUNTERS AT PETE’S PUB
The Limpkin has its own ‘monotypic’ family – a one-off species of bird
They eat snails and molluscs (also insects, worms & frogs), using their beaks to snatch them
They may leave piles of discarded shells in their favourite feeding sites
The birds are ungainly and awkward: “limpkin” probably derives from their limping gait
Males and females have the same plumage (males being slightly larger)
The beak acts like tweezers – slightly open and closing at the tip – for tweaking snails etc
Territory is defended aggressively, with ‘ritualized charging and wing-flapping’ at intruders
Sex lives: they are monogamous; or polyandrous (a male and more than one female. Tsk.)
They use ‘courtship feeding’ – males will catch and shell a snail and then feed it to a female
They are also known as the ‘Crying Bird’ for their bizarre shrieking call, as used in films (below)
Olivia Patterson of Friends of the Environment kindly sent me this video that she posted on their FB page a while back with the comment:“Do you know what a limpkin sounds like? There are a pair of them which live around the FRIENDS office. Check out this video to hear them calling out for each other. See if you can spot the limpkin! (hint… look at the pine tree on the left). Limpkins typically live near wetlands and eat snails”.
Limpkins call mainly at dusk in the night, or at dawn. The frankly somewhat tedious and repetitive cry has been phonetically rendered as “kwEEEeeer orklAAAar“, if that helps you to remember it! The racket has even achieved fame in films: it has been used for jungle sound effects in Tarzan films; and more recently for the HIPPOGRIFF in the film Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.
Favourite food – the apple snail
**I’m not ashamed to use my more pathetic photos when context permits…
Credits: Header, Tony Hepburn; 5 rubbish photos from a moving truck, RH; Gilpin Point, Troy Maillis; 3 other images wiki (uncredited); range map, Cornell; video, Olivia Patterson / FOTE; general long-billed rootling around for info, with a nod to wiki.
“TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL”: WHERE CONSERVATION BEGINS
“Catch ’em young”. The perfect plan with children. On Abaco, wonderful work is continually being done with young children on the mainland and on each cay to teach them how precious their environment is, how fragile, and how important it is to take good care of it. The huge enthusiasm of the youngsters casts a beam of light onto the rather dark global picture of habitat destruction, pollution and ecological neglect that we have become depressingly accustomed too.
Education and training is carried out in schools; field work is done involving children of all ages; and camps are organised. FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT carries out this invaluable and rewarding task on an almost daily basis, offering students an astounding range of environment-based activities. Even the very youngest are catered for: the “Sea Beans Club” is an after-school club for ages 3-5, which introduces young minds to their environment through educational activities and outdoor play.
Students and researchers from CWFNJ survey the beach to make sure that their activities will not disturb any plovers feeding in the area
Students and volunteers selectively remove small invasive Casuarinas, which were encroaching on plover roosting habitat. By removing the invasive plants, native plants will be able to flourish and help stabilize the beach.
The BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST, too, plays its part in educating children about the fascinating yet frail world around them. For example, Scott Johnson’s snake protection work, in which he demonstrates to small kids that Bahamas snakes are completely harmless and to be respected not feared, is a wonder to behold.
BNT’s Scott Johnson visits a school with his non-scary snakes
In addition there are strong partnerships with organisations many miles away from the Bahamas, of which the CONSERVE WILDLIFE FOUNDATION OF NJis the prime example. Todd Pover, Stephanie Egger and the team take their remit beyond their well-known piping plover conservation work by engaging with the pupils of Abaco’s schools each year and inspiring them.
Much of the work is done in the field, getting the children interested in birds, the shoreline, the vital ecological role of mangroves, and the problems of marine debris. Other important work can be done in the classroom.
(A quick shout-out to Tom Reed, who I know took the piping plover photo!)
The clear message being sent out to the schoolchildren on Abaco is this: you are never too young to learn how to appreciate, respect and look after your environment. And they are responding with intelligence and enthusiasm. We are lucky that these kids are the future.
Stephanie Egger of CWFNJ writes:“This year, we’ve reached over 120 students through the Shorebird Sister School Network Program, both from the Bahamas and in the United States. We hope to foster a greater appreciation for wildlife, especially for the Piping Plover and its habitat, and inspire students to help now — and later on in their lives as adults — ensuring the recovery and survival of the bird for years to come”.
VOLUNTARY MUSICAL DIGRESSION
“Teach your Children” is the second track of Déja Vu, the 1970 CSNY album. Nash wrote it much earlier, when still with the Hollies, then stored it in his musical lumber room. Just as well: it fits perfectly with the rather fey hippy vibe of the rest of Déja Vu.
Credits: huge thanks for general use permission for material to FotE, BNT and CWFNJ; and to all the individual photographers concerned
MAKING A SPLASH: SPERM WHALES & MANATEES IN ABACO WATERS
After a quiet spell on the cetacean and sirenian front, there is exciting news to report. First, the BMMRO encountered two sperm whales just off Sandy Point. I don’t know how close to the shore they actually were, but it was very friendly of them to come so near to the BMMRO HQ.
When whales are sighted from the research vessel, one of the tasks is to collect feces. This job is often undertaken by interns, and is a good way to learn that serious research may well involve unattractive work… They practise with… er… coffee grounds and a net. For more on this important yet unappealing aspect of whale research, CLICKNICE TO SEE FAMILIAR FECES. Another essential part of any sighting is to take fluke photos to enable ID. Every whale has different and distinctive patterning to the fluke, including general wear and tear. As a photo archive is built up, the researchers are able to recognise a particular whale and cross-reference it with previous sightings.
The third task of a sighting is to record clicks made by an individual whale. This enables an estimate of the whale’s size to be made, and again a sound archive is gradually built up from which comparisons can be made.
A NEW MANATEE VISITS MARSH HABOUR
FRIENDS OF THE ENVIRONMENT has just reported the sighting of a new manatee at the head of Marsh Harbour harbour. I’m not aware of any other sightings in the last couple of days, but as they say, “Please keep your eyes out and drive carefully! ContactBahamas Marine Mammal Research Organizationwith any further sighting reports by calling 357-6666. You can also share photos with them on Facebook. Also, please do not feed the manatee. They are able to find their own food and anything else may make them unhealthy”.
This is Abaco’s third recent manatee. First there was GEORGIE, who as far as I know is still comfortably settled in the Cherokee area. Then RANDYarrived earlier this and got to within about a few miles of Georgie… High hopes of a meeting – and ‘friendship, maybe more’ – were dashed when Randy turned round and headed back to Castaway Cay. Let’s hope this newcomer stays around. I wonder what he – or she – will be named? My suggestion is Abby or Abi, which I think is unisex…
Just as with the whale flukes, the tail of a manatee is an important means of identification. The new manatee’s tail has its own distinctive edge pattern, which will enable its future recognition. Here is an image of Randy’s tail, with its unique notch.
Credits: BMMRO & FOTE with thanks as ever for use permissions
“50 WAYS TO PLEASE YOUR PLOVER”: PIPING PLOVERS ON ABACO (2)
There must be 50 ways at least, most of them amounting to leaving Piping Plovers alone and respecting their habitat. So, in many cases simply NOT doing things . Refraining from driving your SUV around on the beaches exactly where they are resting (with other shorebirds) during migration (yes, this very scenario is captured on film). Discouraging your canine friends from investigating their scrapes, eggs and chicks. Not building a concrete block on their favourite beach. Avoiding dumping quantities of oil in their vicinity. That kind of thing. Make a new plan, Stan! Watch where you drive, Clive! Find a new place, Grace! Safeguard your oil, Doyle! And leave the birds free…
MIGRATION & CONSERVATION I’m returning to Piping Plovers at a time when concerns for their diminished population has led to intensive research and protection programs at both ends of their migration routes. For a long time, their winter destination was a mystery. Recent investigations have helped to pinpoint the wintering grounds, which include Abaco. Ringing programs in the summer breeding areas mean that birds can be identified in winter and traced back to their origin. So if you are out and about and see one of these little guys – let’s say, on the beach at Casuarina – and you happen to have a camera with you, can I repeat the request to please take a photo, if possible showing the leg bling, and let one of the island birders (or me) know…
You can see how the PIPLs live through the seasons and their migrations in an excellent Audubon interactive presentation I have featured previously entitled “Beating the Odds: A Year in the Life of a Piping Plover”.CLICKBEATING THE ODDS
PIPL ON ABACO I shared this wonderful video from the reliably excellent CONCH SALAD TV on my FB page, but it’s such a great 15 minutes worth of Piping Plover information that I am including it in this post, not least because many of the the subscribers are different. The Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular are favoured by these delightful but rare and vulnerable birds for their winter habitat (sensible creatures). If you can spare 15 minutes and are interested in the importance of Abaco as a vital component in the conservation of migratory birds, do watch the video. Presenters include Todd Pover and Stephanie Egger of CONSERVE WILDLIFE NEW JERSEY, David Knowles of the BNT and Olivia Patterson of FOTE(Friends of the Environment, Abaco). One of the most heartening features is to see the responses of the young children who were encouraged to participate in the project, and who take to it with huge enthusiasm.
A while back, well-known and much missed Abaco naturalist Ricky Johnson made his own Piping Plover film incorporating his own trademark style and sense of humour. My original post about it can be seenHERE, but far better to go straight to Ricky’s video. It’s good to recall his infectious enthusiasm for the wildlife of Abaco. Impossible to watch without smiling…
The PIPL in this post all have two things in common. The wonderful photos are all taken by Danny Sauvageau; and all of the birds are differently ringed, reflecting their various summer habitats. So this brings me to Danny’s Kickstarter project “Saving Endangered Piping Plovers through Photography”. He has put together a superb presentation explaining his project, and how his photography in prime PIPL resting areas during their migrations back and forth can help to map and complete the picture of this vulnerable species to enable their protection.
You can reach Danny’s film by clicking the link DANNY’S FILM(there’s no obligation to go further and contribute) and you will see some fabulous footage of these little birds scuttling around on the beach, looking enchanting; and the commentary will explain the importance of the the birds and the research into their conservation.
“Any craft you can paddle will be welcome, from kayaks, paddle boards and canoes – just no engines! There will be 3 courses to choose from: 5 miles, 8 miles, or 13 miles that will take paddlers into and through the scenic Bight of Old Robinson, part of the proposed East Abaco Creeks National Park. Paddlers will be welcomed back with a Beach party at Pete’s Pub.”
Pete’s Pub: “Thirst come, thirst served…”
THE THREE COURSES
5 Mile Course
8 Mile Course
13 Mile Course
SUPPORT FRIENDS & BMMRO INTERN OSCAR WARD AS HE NEGOTIATES THE PERILS OF THE “BIG ONE”; AND FOLLOW HIS INTERN’S BLOG HERE
“Support boats will be available to assist, but paddlers should plan to bring adequate water and snacks for the trip. Remember, the sun in The Bahamas is hot, so pack your sunscreen, sunglasses, hat and if you burn easily, clothing to cover yourself up with along the way. Kayaking is a water activity, so be aware that anything that goes in the kayak with you will get wet whether it be from a splash from passing boat wake, drops from paddles, or a quick rain storm. Kayaking is a physical activity, remember the further you venture, the further the paddle to return.”
There will be a beach barbeque & party for spectators to cheer the paddlers on as they come in from their journey.