The northern curly-tailed lizard Leiocephalus carinatus, to give it its full name, resembles a tiny dragon with a twist in the tail. These little critters bask in the sun, or scuttle away into holes and crevices as you approach them. I suspect that even a confirmed herpophobic would find some charm in them. They are, of course, completely harmless to humans.
Surprisingly, the Bahamas is home not just to one but five different curly-tail species, and nine sub-species. Broadly-speaking, the variants are found on different and specific islands and have discrete local markings. Mostly they are brownish, but they may also be grey or with a greenish tinge like this one I recently photographed.
Curly-tail males, being territorial, turn somewhat aggressive around breeding time, which is basically most the the year, from February to October. Behaviours indicative of their territorial claims include tail curling / uncurling (of course), head-bobbing, strutting about in an agitated way and inflating the sides of their necks in a threatening kind of way. The tiny-tails, 2″ long when born, are known as ‘hatchlings’.
An impressive poolside ‘double curly’
THREATS TO CURLY TAILS
According to the Bahamas National Trust BNT, the main dangers to the curly-tails of the Bahamas are:
Dogs, cats, rats and introduced predators such as raccoons
Collection for the pet trade – curly tails are unprotected by CITES listing (also cute)
Collection of the rarer endemics by reptile enthusiasts seeking ‘exotics’
Development and habitat destruction (though it is noted that curly tails seem to adjust quite well in developed areas)
A curly tails sloughs its skin as it grows, as with snakes and other reptiles
WHY THE CURLY TAIL?
As mentioned above, for use in territorial posturing
In courtship displays by males to attract females (luckily a method not available to humans)
As a response to predators, confusing an attacker with movement at both ends
As a last resort, to detach to aid escape (the tail re-grows)
For fun and just because they can grow one and you cannot
Credits: all photos, Keith Salvesen except #2 & #6, Charles Skinner; BNT
The drastic effects of Hurricane Dorian on Abaco’s birdlife continue, with recent reports suggesting that all species remain affected, and some severely so. However there are signs of a slow improvement, and this good news includes the two hummingbird species, the endemic Bahama Woodstar and the Cuban Emerald. A couple of recent posts on FB indicate that sightings of both these species have been a very welcome surprise. So, a good time to write about them and to show their beauty.
The subject matter of this post is not as indelicate as the title might imply; nor is it a ‘hands-on’ practical guide for intimate examinations of tiny birds. In particular it does not publicise some recently discovered louche activity involving unfeasibly large motor vehicles. It’s all about plumage and recognition. And there are only two species – and two genders for each one – to wrestle with.So here are the adult male and female Bahama Woodstars and Cuban Emeralds in all their glory…
BAHAMA WOODSTAR (Calliphlox evelynae)
CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)
And finally, a brilliant Woodstar photo taken by Tom Sheley, birdman and generous fishing partner, that I spans the boundary between wildlife photography and art.
The Cookiecutter shark Isistius brasiliensis (aka the less scary, more genial sounding ‘cigar shark’), might be an ideal candidate for a Room 101 nemesis.** These little beasts – a species of dogfish shark – are found in several mainly island-based areas dotted around the globe, including in Bahamas waters.
HOW COME THE NAME?
These sharky little b@st@rds (*scientific term*) attack marine mammals and fishes, attaching themselves by suction and gouging out perfect round plugs of skin and flesh, leaving what are sometimes called ‘crater wounds’. Then they eat them. Imagine getting hold of a really sharp domestic cookie cutter with circular rows of razor-sharp teeth, and grinding it hard into your thigh. There! That!
The size of an adult shark:16″ max
The term ‘cookiecutter’ is also a pejorative slang term, meaning mass-produced, lacking in originality, or boringly samey, as in cookiecutter cars or TV genres etc. The little critters under consideration here are anything but…
HORRIFYING COOKIECUTTER FACTS
Live in the depths, rise vertically in the day & dive back down at dusk
Undersides have light-emitting ‘photophores’ which emphasise…
…the dark collar which acts as a lure, resembling a small innocent fish
Bioluminescence lures prey & confuses predators (more on this below)
The glow is so strong it may last for some time after removal from water
Their lips are ‘suctorial’ = they attach tightly to their target
The jaws then gouge out the victim’s flesh in a remarkably neat circle
Omni-vicious: any medium to large ocean creature is vulnerable to attack
There are even occasional reports of humans being targeted
Here are two Blainville’s beaked whales that I photographed from the BMMRO research vessel. The top whale has a number of circular healed attack marks and a recent one. You can see how deep the gouged hole is. The other has well-healed scars.
Multi-toothed: top rows of small teeth, rows of larger teeth on the bottom
The lower teeth are the cutters, acting like a saw when locked on
See header image and below for full details
HOW EXACTLY DO THEY DO WHAT THEY DO?
I can explain it no better than the renowned authority Prof. W. K. P. Dear: “the suctorial lips ensure a tight seal. It then bites, using its narrow upper teeth as anchors while its razor sharp lower teeth slices into the prey. Finally, the shark twists and rotates its body to complete a circular cut, quite possibly aided by the initial forward momentum and subsequent struggles of its prey. The action of the lower teeth may also be assisted by back-and-forth vibrations of the jaw, a mechanism akin to that of an electric carving knife”.
ARE THESE SHARKS ‘PARASITES’, WOULD YOU SAY?
The behaviour of these sharks is an example of a symbiotic relationship between two species that is parasitic. This means essentially that one gains and the other suffers (eg humans & no-see-ums). This is distinct from commensalistic symbiosis, where one species gains and the other is unaffected (e.g. cattle egrets with cattle); and mutualistic symbiosis, where both gain (e.g. cleaner fish & groupers). So, in a word, yes.
An ‘ambush predator’: these little sharks ‘hover’ in the water column waiting…
They are capable of rapid movement to catch up & latch onto prey
They will eat a passing small fish, crustacean or even squid as a snack
Sometimes they operate in schools; there is safety in numbers
The schools are thought to increase the ‘lure’ effect of the dark collar
A beached whale that’s been heavily targeted
FUN FACT TO COUNTERACT THE BAD STUFF
In the late c20, more than 30 U.S. Navy submarines were forced back to base to repair damage caused by cookiecutter shark bites, either to the neoprene footings of sonar domes or to rubber-sheathed cables. The problems were solved by using fibreglass. Oceanographic equipment and telecommunications cables are also recorded as being damaged by these sharks.
Cookiecutter Shark – the real deal
MONSTERS OF THE DEEP
These great cards from the weirdly spelledWIERD ‘N’ WILD CREATURESprovide excellent factual info. Their CCS card is no exception. You’ll find more details here about the effect of the bioluminescence and so on, written as clearly as I might hope to.
**“The worst thing in the world varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.” (George Orwell, 1984). Being in a tank with some cookiecutters might count.
Alright now… the wounds eventually heal
Credits: BMMRO – header image; beaked whale photos – Keith Salvesen / BMMRO; Te Ara NZ for the main jaw image; all small images with thanks to Wiki and respective photographers who took the time to upload them for all to enjoy & learn from; ‘wierdnwonderful creatures’ for the monster card; range map from Wiki
IT’S STARTED The great winter migration of warblers and their imminent arrival in The Bahamas is underway. Any day now – if not already – the ‘winter’ (in fact autumn & early spring as well) warblers will be arriving on Abaco. There are 38 warbler species recorded for the main island and the cays. For years, it was just 37. Then in 2018 a CANADA WARBLER was seen and photographed by well-known Bahamas birder Chris Johnson. It was a first for Abaco – and the first-ever report for the Bahamas as well. You’ll find the story HERE.
This article is updated from an earlier one written pre-Dorian and the situation will undoubtedly be different now, especially with the transients and rare species. Consider it as a historical record of the prolific warbler species recorded for Abaco and more generally the northern Bahamas before the hurricane struck. The 5 permanent resident warbler are still resident. Many migrants and possibly all transients have sadly not been recorded since, and the rarest perhaps never will be. The hope must be that at least the most common winter warblers will continue to arrive, and in increasing numbers.
First-ever Canada Warbler for Abaco & the entire Bahamas: Aug 2018 (Chris Johnson)
Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Chris Johnson)
The guide divides the original 37 species (excluding the Canada warbler) into categories, with a code for each bird to show:
Resident status – permanent / breeding, migratory or transient
Frequency – likelihood of seeing each species in its season, rated from 1 (very likely) to 5 (extreme rarities, maybe recorded only once or twice since c1950 when recording began)
Numerically, the division breaks down into 3 categories of warbler:
5 permanent residents (PR) that breed on Abaco (B), of which two are ENDEMIC
21 winter residents (WR) ranging from ‘everyday’ species to extreme rarities like the very vulnerable Kirtland’s Warbler that needs a specific winter habitat that Abaco can provide
11 transients, most of which you will be very lucky to encounter
Palm Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)
The photos that follow show an example of each warbler, where possible both (1) male and (2) taken on Abaco. Where I had no Abaco images – especially with the transients – I have used other mainstream birding resources and Wiki. All due credits at the foot of the post.
PHOTO CREDITS (1 – 37) Bruce Hallett (Header, 3, 9, 12, 14, 17, 21, 22); Tom Reed (1, 4); Cornell Lab (2); Tom Sheley (7, 10); Alex Hughes (5); Gerlinde Taurer (6, 11, 18); Becky Marvil (8, 20a); Woody Bracey (13, 24); Peter Mantle (15); Keith Salvesen (16); William H. Majoros wiki (19); talainsphotographyblog (20b, 26, 34); Charmaine Albury (23); Craig Nash (25); Ann Capling (27); Jerry Oldenettel wiki (28); Dominic Sherony wiki (29); 10000birds (30); Steve Maslowski wiki (31); MDF wiki (32, 33); Avibirds (35); Michael Woodruff wiki (36); Emily Willoughby wiki (37)
CHECKLISTbased on the complete checklist and codes for Abaco devised by Tony White with Woody Bracey for “THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO” by Keith Salvesen
The WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris is one of Abaco’s specialist birds. Islanders and regular visitors will be familiar with the sight – and indeed the raucous sound – of these beautiful birds. They are commonly found throughout Abaco and the cays. Possibly their rarity across the wider Bahamas is underestimated. The only other island where these birds are found is San Salvador. Formerly resident on Grand Bahama, they are believed to be extirpated there. Abaco is very fortunate to enjoy their noisy company.
The hot news hereabouts is that my troll friend is back. I mention it not because it remotely bothers me but so that he? she? they? they all? will know that I have noticed. That must be the point. If I didn’t notice, all that effort working through my posts of the last 3 months would be wasted. Where’s the joy in that? So it’s kindest to let you know that I know that you know that I know. And well done you – it’s your second outing this year. It’s been twice a year for about 4 years, so it may be that the medication periodically wears off. Time for a top up, you may think. Meanwhile, you are more than welcome to comment on any post you find disagreeable or offensive. Natural History can be so aggravating, can it not?
Reddish Egret (white morph)
Reddish egret credits: white morphs – Danny Sauvageau and Phil Lanoue; standard version in full breeding plumage at Crossing Rocks Abaco – Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour
This is not the ‘pink’ supermoon you saw the other day, but one from a couple of years back. I only had a bridge camera with me with a cheapo 1.7 teleconverter, but luckily a sturdy windowsill as well to reduce the shakes (that kind, anyway…). I marked a few prominent features on the image. Some of these took me back to a childhood astronomy book (‘Imbrium!’; ‘Nubium!’) where I learned about stars well beyond Orion, Ursa ma. & mi., and Cassiopeia – about the only constellations I can reliably point to these days.
This week’s supermoon shone very brightly where I am now, but the moon itself was rather hazy. It certainly wasn’t pink but rather more of a pale cold white. As it turns out, the ‘pink’ doesn’t refer to the lunar colouring anyway, but to the full moon in Spring that occurs when the early-blooming wild pink comes into flower. So, it’s a seasonally-based name and a bit like the harvest moon not being harvest coloured…
Photo: Tom Sheley, taken at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco
This wonderful and mood-brightening photo was taken by Tom while we were compiling an archive for my book BIRDS OF ABACOIt is one of the most memorable images of the very large number of photographs featured. Every one of them was taken on Abaco (photos taken ‘off-island’ were ruthlessly excluded); and each one in natural surroundings (no seed-trails, recorded calls and so on). Sadly the edition sold out well before Hurricane Dorian so we have been unable to replace any of the many lost copies. However, I am contemplating producing a pdf version of the pre-print draft (a Covid displacement activity). If that goes ahead I will devise a way to distribute it simply, and possibly in return for a modest donation towards the work of Abaco wildlife organisations.
I spent a wonderful 15 minutes with this little Cuban Emerald hummingbird (Chlorostilbon ricordii), which I found perched on a stick in a small clearing in the coppice at Delphi. I was several feet away when I first noticed it, so I spent some time inching forward towards it. Even from a distance, the metallic sheen of the feathers glinted in the bright sunlight. The bird watched me, tame and unruffled, as I approached. I took photos as I moved closer so that if it flew off at least I’d have something to remember it by. In the end it let me get so close that I could almost have touched it. When I’d taken some close-ups, I backed very slowly away. The little beady black eyes followed my retreat with interest. The bird was still happily perched on the stick when I lost eye-contact with it. In the end I was more moved (in one sense) than it was (in another).
Bananaquits (Coereba flaveola) are small, colourful, and delightful birds of the coppice and garden. Besides their obvious attractiveness, the birds have in recent years enjoyed an uniquity: the status of being the sole species in the family Coerebidae.
However this singular status has really been a kind of avian parking place due to past, present (and doubtless future) uncertainty of the right category for these birds. Like so many avian species these days, they are subject to the rigours and vagaries of continual reclassification by the ornithological powers-that-be.
Bananaquits are, broadly speaking, passerines – essentially birds that perch. The nominal ‘passer’ was specifically awarded to sparrows by BRISSON, a contemporary of Linnaeus. Recently, bananaquits have suffered mysterious migrations of their classification ranging from the generalised ‘passerine‘ to the vague incertae sedis (= ‘uncertain group‘) to uncomfortable inclusion with tanagers / emberizids.
The debate over the appropriate classification for this pretty little bird (of which there are many subspecies in the broad Caribbean region) – rumbles on. A new way to confuse the issue is the suggestion that the bananaquit should be split into 3 species. In some areas, I believe this has happened at least informally.
Elsewhere there are doubters, sceptics, and champions of other group inclusions. The most obvious beneficiaries of all this will be dedicated birders, who may end up with two extra species to add to their ‘Lifer’ lists. Personally I’d like to think that the birds themselves will stay ahead of the curve in their own category, maintaining the mystery of their precise status while humans argue about what to call them.
CREDITS: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1); Gerlinde Taurer (2); Craig Nash (3, 7); Tom Sheley (4, 5); Erik Gauger (6). All birds photographed on Abaco, Bahamas
Bananaquit perched on yellow elder, the National flower of the Bahamas
ABACO, BAHAMAS has been all but destroyed by Hurricane Dorian. The horrendous scale of the disaster in human terms alone is only now becoming clear as the days pass and new tragedies are revealed. Many established relief funds – international, national and local – are being very generously supported for the benefit of those who have suffered so grievously. I am adding to the number through my specific link to Abaco and its wildlife.
For obvious reasons, the GFM page (in edited form here) has a rather more formal , explicatory tone than I would usually use.
Sally and I were founder members of the Delphi Club, Abaco and retain strong connections with the island and the community. I run a conservation program for rare migratory plovers that overwinter on Abaco; and I am involved with BMMRO & its marine mammal research.
‘THE BIRDS OF ABACO’, of which I am the author, was published in 2014. The book was designed by Sally and published by Peter Mantle / The Delphi club. By the end of last year the edition had sold out, and all planned educational donations to schools, libraries and relevant organisations had been completed.
However, I have a couple of dozen books left in the UK. Through this fundraiser, I am offering a copy of the book in exchange for a donation of $150 (or the equivalent). The resulting fund (minus the cost of fulfilment from the UK) will be added to the funds achieved by the Delphi Club through theirDORIAN RELIEF FUND .
A higher donation is of course encouraged; and please note, it is not compulsory to receive a bird book. Smaller donations are extremely welcome too, and for those of $50+ I will offer the donors a high-res PDF of a bird of their choice from a selection of several significant species found on Abaco; or a PDF of the complete bird species checklist for Abaco. That’s voluntary too.
The original price of this large photographic book was $145. It showcases the wonderful birds of Abaco with contributions from 30 photographers. Almost all are either residents of Abaco, or have strong connections with – and affection for – the island and its cays.
The books can be sent to Bahamas, USA, Canada and Europe. For any other destination, please contact me before you make a donation. Books will not be dispatched before October.
Please note that the Delphi Club does not have a stock of books and is not directly involved with this fundraiser. Please contact me with any inquiries, even though the Club details are shown on the pre-publication flyer below.
It’s often a hard decision whether to include a short piece of video footage in a post. By short, I mean less than a minute. On the one hand, there is usually a good reason for inclusion, even if only aesthetic. On the other, it simply takes up more time for busy people who may prefer to flick through an article and enjoy some nice images along the way. Today, you can have the best of both worlds.
Sanderlings are definitively ‘peeps’, a group name that embraces the smallest and squeakiest sandpiper species. They are the wave chasers, the tiny birds that scuttle along the beach, into the retreating tide for a snack from the sand, and back to the beach again as the waves creep in. Their little legs and feet move in a blur, and many people immediately think of wind-up clockwork toys as they watch the birds in action.
One of the joys of being a sanderling is that rock pools fill and empty diurnally. At some time during daylight, there’s the certainty of a quick dip. I was lying on the beach when I took this short video, so that I didn’t spook the birds. I was equipped with a smallish camera (I drowned it the following day. By mistake I mean) but I kept my distance rather than try to get closer and spoil their joyful bathing.
I caught these little birds at a critical moment. You can tell that the tide is coming in fast. The peeps are becoming edgy, and weighing up the joys of immersion in a pool with the less enjoyable prospect of being washed out of the pool by the next wave. Within a minute or so, they had all flocked down the shoreline for a foraging session.
Waves and incoming tide getting a little too close for comfort on the edge of the pool…
Next to the migratory PIPING PLOVERS that favour Abaco as their winter home, the wave chasers are my favourite shorebirds. My keenness on them killed my camera. I went out into the incoming waves to get shots back at the beach with the sun behind me. Great idea until I lost my balance with, as they say, hilarious consequences. Lesson learnt – never turn your back on waves.
Royal terns Thalasseus maximus seem to have a great liking – quite rightly – for the charms of Cherokee, Abaco. Of the 12 tern species recorded for Abaco, ROTEs are the only permanent residents. Most of the others are summer visitors; a couple are winter visitors; and the rest pass through as migrating ‘transients’, stopping to rest and refuel on their long journeys. So ROTEs are undoubtedly the most commonly found terns on Abaco, and some might say the finest. And Cherokee Long Dock is one place to find them.
The historicLONG DOCKat Cherokee stretches far out into the sea to accommodate the varying tide levels of the area – click the link for more information and photos. It is a memorable feature for visitors, and much loved by locals. Also by the royal terns.
The dock provides an ideal safe platform for ROTEs to congregate and hang out. They have a perfect view of the small fishes that make up their diet as they swim in the clear turquoise waters a few feet below. Watching these birds diving off the dock after a fish is nearly as entertaining as watching brown pelicans dive off the jetty at Sandy Point.
There are buoys in the bay as well, and individual birds will fly from the dock to perch on a buoy and check out the fishing round it, before returning to the dock – hopefully with a fish in its beak. And the juveniles, with their endearing beginner ‘hair’styles (see #3) can learn the ropes from their elders and betters.
People often stroll the length of the dock, or pause on it to pass the time of day and watch the optimistic bonefishers casting hopefully at their silver prizes. These fish are often easier to see from the dock than from wading level – people sometimes shout helpful encouragement: “There… going left…look!… 20 feet in front of you… no, THERE…” and so on. The terns take little notice of all this. A group of people, especially with a dog, might persuade the birds to take flight, but they return as soon as they can; or simple move along the dock and settle in a different place.
The plaque for the long dock shows its importance to the community
The dock is so long that it tapers to a vanishing point on the horizon
KNOW YOUR TERNS (WITH THE ADMIRABLE BIRDORABLE)
Abaco has these species plus three more
Credits: Keith Salvesen Photography; BIRDORABLE, with thanks for their wit and amazingly effective highlighting of the essential distinguishing features of bird species
Melissa Maura is well-known to many in the Bahamas, not least because of the wonderful work she does with injured or orphaned creatures. Thanks to the skills and compassion of Melissa and those who work with her, animals and birds of all kinds are saved from death or incapacitating injury. In the saddest cases, they are gently cared for until the inevitable occurs.
Melissa also takes terrific bird photographs, some of which I have featured in the past. Indeed my blog headline photograph is one of her parrots. I used to change the header from time to time, but this one is so cheerful that I decided to keep it in place. It always makes me smile.
Parrots are acrobatic creatures, happy to eat at all angles including completely upside down. Not just eat, though. Also bicker, flirt, play-fight, and see off rivals via inverted aggression. With the Abaco parrots, one of the benefits for the bystander is that the balancing act and consequent fluttering often reveals the spectacular blue of the birds’ wings.
In a row, it’s not unusual to see a parrot taking up a dominant position on a branch, leaving its opponent hanging on in an uncomfortably precarious position…
People often ask where on Abaco they are most likely to see the parrots. First, there are no parrots north of Marsh Harbour – they are all in South Abaco. Secondly, although they live and nest in the National Park at the southern end of the island, in practice it covers a very large area, much of it inaccessible and with the only ‘road’ something of a challenge for an ordinary vehicle (described HERE). I’d say that the single most reliable place to see the parrots is at Bahama Palm Shores. Simple turn into the north entrance, drive straight down to the end with the windows down, park up – and listen. If they are there, you’ll hear them for sure!
All photos Melissa Maura except #5, Keith Salvesen (also the sound file of parrots at BPS)
There’s something wrong in the picture above (no, I don’t mean about the photograph itself). Count up how many pink legs you can see. No, not including the reflections. Give up? It’s three. Between two birds. I assumed of course that ‘Oner’ had a perfectly good serviceable leg tucked up into its undercarriage. I admired the balancing skills involved in resting one leg while nonchalantly standing on the other.
We were watching this pair of black-necked stilts Himantopus mexicanus at the pond at Gilpin Point, which at certain times can be ‘Stilt Central’. These birds are permanent breeders on Abaco and are without a doubt the most beautiful of all the waders (avocets, being extremely uncommon winter visitors, are disqualified from consideration for lack of presence).
It gradually dawned on me that Oner really did only have one stilt to stand on. After 10 minutes observing them and the other birds around them, there was no question about it – the right leg was completely and utterly missing. This unipedal deficit had no obvious ill-effects on the bird – nor on its ability to throw a good pose (above). Or to preen (below).
I’m in danger of losing sight of Twoer here, a bipedal bird that deserves its own place in the story, not just a wade-on part in Oner’s story.
Twoer as Ringmaster…
BNSs are territorial and in particular can become ‘proactive’ (ie aggressive) in protecting the area near a nest. I once mistakenly got close to a nest, not even knowing it was there. I soon learnt – a parent BNS came wading towards me, zigzagging in the water, shouting and carrying on in a way that immediately said ‘my nest is nearby’. And when I meanly stood my ground it suddenly took off and flew straight at my head…
A shouty stilt
BLACK-NECKED STILT ALARM CALL
Jim Holmes / Xeno Canto
All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco(and, if anyone noticed, sorry about some formatting issues which I can’t get rid of…); Audio file Jim Holmes / Xeno Canto
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!
The Bonaparte’s gull Chroicocephalus philadelphia is one of the smallest gulls, and is found mainly in Canada and northern United States, though vagrants sometimes end up as far away as Europe. And Abaco. These birds are considered very uncommon winter residents on Abaco (categorised WR4). Yet within the last couple of months Elwood Bracey saw an amazing 4 in Treasure Cay harbour… Milton Harris reported seeing one at Hope Town harbour… Keith Kemp saw a couple on South Abaco (2 locations)… Eugene Hunn reported 1 on the Sandy Point dock… then suddenly there were 3 on the beach at Delphi. They have hung around there, too – let’s hope that all these birds find their way back to their breeding grounds safely. They have quite a journey ahead of them.
The species is named for Charles Lucien Bonaparte, a French ornithologist and nephew to the French emperor (see below for more about him). The philadelphia part of its Latin designation oddly results from the location from which the original ‘type specimen’ was collected (see below for the reason). This is not unlike the Cape May warbler, so named for the location of the original specimen, yet not recorded there again for more than a century (and still quite rare)…
The gulls shown here are in their winter plumage, with the characteristic dark blotch behind the eye. In the breeding season, they acquire smart slate-black hoods:
10 BONAPARTE’S GULL FACTS TO TELL YOUR GRANDCHILDREN
Graceful in flight, resembling terns as much as gulls
Monotypic: the sole representative of its taxonomic subgroup
Males and females have very much the same colouring
Believed to be monogamous
Showy breeders, with much display, swooping, diving, yelling at each other etc
Typically (and ungull-like) they nest in trees, preferring conifers eg jack pine
Share nest-building and parenting duties
Capable of considerable aggression to protect their nests / chicks
Have been known to live 18 years
The only bird species with an Emperor’s name (prove me wrong!**)
We saw these birds on the beach most days, usually just 2 of the 3 at any one time. They were quite shy and hard to get close to, however subtly. And they kept on the move – except when they decided to have a rest.
TELL US MORE ABOUT PRINCE BONAPARTEBonaparte’s gull, Zenaida dove
Charles Lucien Bonaparte, 2nd Prince of Canino & Musignano 1803 – 1853
Bonaparte was a French biologist and ornithologist, and the nephew of the Emperor Napoleon. He married his cousin Zenaïde, by whom he had twelve children. They moved from Italy to Philadelphia, by which time Bonaparte had already developed a keen interest in ornithology. He collected specimens of a new storm-petrel, later named after the Scottish ornithologist Alexander Wilson. And presumably that’s where he found his specimen gull.
Bonaparte studied the ornithology of the United States, and updated Wilson’s work American Ornithology. His revised edition was published between 1825 and 1833. He was a keen supporter of a (then unknown) ornithologist John James Audubon. Rather sweetly, he created the genus Zenaida, after his wife, applying it to the White-winged Dove Zenaida asiatica, Zenaida Dove Zenaida aurita and Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura. He himself was later honoured in the name ‘Bonaparte’s Gull’.
Mmmmm… gumbo limbo berries at Bahama Palm Shores. My favourite evening snack as we parrots head south to the National Park in the evening.
There’s a flock of about 60 of us tonight. I hope I’m left alone to get stuck in – there are plenty of trees to choose from here…
Uh oh! That was never going to happen. We are a noisy rowdy gang, and no one gets to eat alone for long…
This is really bad news… this guy’s hungry, and he’s swooped in higher up the branch, so he’s got an advantage.
Time to take a stand. I’m getting on a level with him. I was here first – these are MY berries… But he’s getting shouty. And there’s aggro in the air…
Right, I’m backing off here. I never did much like gumbo limbo berries, now I come to think of it… And he looks mean as hell. But wait – I’m not just going to back down. Let’s give him a little surprise to remember me by.