CURLY-TAILED LIZARDS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

CURLY-TAILED LIZARDS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

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. 

Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

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-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

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’Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

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 reptilesCurly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Charles Skinner)

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

Curly-tailed Lizard, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

Credits: all photos, Keith Salvesen except #2 & #6, Charles Skinner; BNT

‘SEXING THE HUMMER’: A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS


 ‘SEXING THE HUMMER’
A GENDER GUIDE TO ABACO’S HUMMINGBIRDS

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.

Cuban Emerald (male) Abaco (Charlie Skinner)

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)

Bahama Woodstar (male), Abaco (Bruce Hallett)
Bahama Woodstar male, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Sheley)
Bahama Woodstar (female), Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco (Tara Lavallee)
Bahama Woodstar (female), Abaco (Tom Sheley)

 

CUBAN EMERALD (Chlorostilbon ricordii)

Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (male), Delphi, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi Club, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female), Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)
Cuban Emerald (female) Gilpin Point, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

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. 

Bahama Woodstar female. Abaco Bahamas . Tom Sheley

Header Image: Keith Salvesen

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS: BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS


Cookiecutter Shark mouth, jaws & teeth (BMMRO Bahamas)

COOKIECUTTER SHARKS

BEASTLY LITTLE SUCKERS

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.

Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)Blainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

  • 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 spelled WIERD ‘N’ WILD CREATURES provide 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. 

Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)Cookiecutter Shark Facts (Monsters of the Deep)

** “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 healBlainville's Beaked Whale - cookiecutter shark damage (Keith Salvesen)

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

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO by KEITH SALVESEN: final copies available


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

NEW! UNEXPECTED!

There’s nothing like a massive house clear-out (after 42 years) to reveal lost possessions, forgotten treasures, and (for that matter) a few things best forgotten… Last Spring we began to prepare for a house-move, during which I found a box of bird books that I duly reported here (and happily sold). Recently, sorting through a packed shipping container parked in the unlikely setting of a local farm has revealed plenty of surprises, including a couple more boxes of BIRDS OF ABACO. There definitely aren’t any more. There may be one or two people who might like one / who lost their copy during Dorian / who are new to Abaco and its wonderful birdlife. Here is a chance to own one… 

In the spirit of recycling I am reusing the original blurb because it still holds good today. The book is only ‘out of date’ to the extent that since publication about a dozen new species have been reported. Most were seen just the once, some for a few weeks at most. So although exciting, the newcomers were more ‘Birds Passing Through…’ than ‘Birds Of…’ Abaco  

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a

The originator of the idea for the book – as with the entire Delphi Club project – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. He took a risk based on my (then) quite feeble Rolling Harbour blog about the birds and other attractions of the island. The 2kg book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy.

Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

As part of the project, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations were given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits was given to local wildlife causes. We quickly sold a great many copies,  and couldn’t have been more pleased with the response to the book, a unique publication for the Bahamas. The captions (below) about the book and content were written much nearer the time, so I’ll leave them as they are. I hope you enjoy the photos even if you don’t want a copy!

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:

  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or seed trails were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas

Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley

  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book

Least Tern_ACH3672 copy

  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species

Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy

  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing

Smooth-billed Ani pair GT

  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco

Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club. The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art and architecture books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What were the chances?

BOOK LAUNCH BAHAMAS BIRDING ROYALTY (Tony White, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey), A COMMONER… & AN EMBARRASSING AMOUNT OF REFRESHMENT

Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

BOOK SALE DETAILS
 
I am pricing the books at $120 inc. shipping. They are in England, heavy, and expensive to post. 1/3 of the price will be the flight of the birds across the Atlantic. If you would like a copy and do not already have my contact details, email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
 
 
American Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Photos: Tom Sheley (3,4,9,10),  Bruce Hallett (6,8), Gerlinde Taurer (1,7), Tony Hepburn (5), Keith Salvesen (2,11)

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

THE ORIGINAL FLYER

"Birds of Abaco" flyer

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE


Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (©Tom Sheley)

Olive-capped Warbler (resident species), Abaco Bahamas (©Tom Sheley)

ABACO’S 38 WARBLERS: AN ILLUSTRATED ID GUIDE

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.Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

First-ever Canada Warbler for Abaco & the entire Bahamas: Aug 2018 (Chris Johnson)

Canada Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (1st record) (Chris Johnson)

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

Hooded Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (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)
Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

Bahama Warbler (endemic), Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

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)

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.

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco Bahamas (Gerlinde Taurer)

AN ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO ABACO’S WARBLERS

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

5 PERMANENT RESIDENTS

BAHAMA YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis rostrata PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Yellowthroat, Abaco (Charles Skinner)

BAHAMA WARBLER Setophaga flavescens PR B 1  ENDEMIC

Bahama Warbler - endemic Abaco Bahamas (Alex Hughes)

YELLOW WARBLER Setophaga petechia PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler, sunrise, Abaco Bahamas (Tom Shelley)

OLIVE-CAPPED WARBLER Setophaga pityophila PR B 1 

Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

PINE WARBLER Setophaga pinus PR B 1 

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

WINTER RESIDENTS  (COMMON)

OVENBIRD Seiurus aurocapilla WR 1 

OVENBIRD_Bahamas-Great Abaco_6639_Ovenbird_Gerlinde Taurer 2

WORM-EATING WARBLER Helmitheros vermivorum WR 2 

Worm-eating Warbler.Bahama Palm Shores.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

NORTHERN WATERTHRUSH  Parkesia noveboracensis WR 1 

BAHAMAS - Northern Waterthrush - Oct 2010 Becky Marvil

BLACK-AND-WHITE WARBLER Mniotilta varia WR 2 

Black & White Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

COMMON YELLOWTHROAT Geothlypis trichas WR 1 

Common Yellowthroat.Gilpin Pond.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley copy

AMERICAN REDSTART  Setophaga ruticilla WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6334_American Redstart_Gerlinde Taurer copy

CAPE MAY WARBLER Setophaga tigrina WR 1 

Cape May Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NORTHERN PARULA Setophaga americana WR 1 

Northern Parula, Abaco - Woody Bracey

BLACK-THROATED BLUE WARBLER Setophaga caerulescens WR 2 

Black-throated Blue Warbler (m), Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PALM WARBLER  Setophaga palmarum WR 1 

Palm Warbler, Abaco - Peter Mantle

YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER Setophaga coronata WR 2 

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco - Keith Salvesen (RH)

YELLOW-THROATED WARBLER Setophaga dominica WR 1 

Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

PRAIRIE WARBLER Setophaga discolor WR 1 

Bahamas-Great Abaco_6609_Prairie Warbler_Gerlinde Taurer copy 2

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

 WINTER RESIDENTS  (UNCOMMON TO RARE)

LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH Parkesia motacilla WR 3 

Louisiana waterthrush William H. Majoros WIKI

BLUE-WINGED WARBLER Vermivora cyanoptera WR 3

Blue-winged Warbler, Abaco (Becky Marvil)

Blue-winged Warbler. talainsphotographyblog

SWAINSON’S WARBLER  Limnothlypis swainsonii WR 4 

Swainson's Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

NASHVILLE WARBLER Oreothlypis ruficapilla WR 4 

Nashville Warbler, Abaco - Bruce Hallett

HOODED WARBLER Setophaga citrina WR 3 

Hooded Warbler, Abaco (Charmaine Albury)

KIRTLAND’S WARBLER Setophaga kirtlandii WR 4 

Kirtland's Warbler (m), Abaco - Woody Bracey

MAGNOLIA WARBLER Setophaga magnolia WR 3 

Magnolia warbler, Abaco - Craig Nash

BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER Setophaga virens WR 3 

Black-throated Green Warbler - talainsphotographyblog

Yellow Warbler at sunrise.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley copy copy

TRANSIENTS

PROTHONOTARY WARBLER Protonotaria citrea TR 3 

Prothonotary Warbler, Abaco - Ann Capling

TENNESSEE WARBLER Oreothlypis peregrina TR 4 

Tennessee Warbler Jerry Oldenettel Wiki

ORANGE-CROWNED WARBLER  Oreothlypis celata TR 4 

Orange-crowned Warbler dominic sherony wiki

CONNECTICUT WARBLER Oporonis agilis TR 4 

Connecticut Warbler Central Park NYC 10000birds.com

KENTUCKY WARBLER Geothlypis formosa TR 4 

Kentucky_Warbler Steve Maslowski wiki - Version 2

BAY-BREASTED WARBLER Setophaga castanea TR 4 

Bay-breated warbler MDF Wiki

BLACKBURNIAN WARBLER Setophaga fusca TR 4

Blackburnian Warbler Mdf wiki

CHESTNUT-SIDED WARBLER Setophaga pensylvanica TR 4

Chestnut-sided Warbler talainsphotographyblog - Version 2

BLACKPOLL WARBLER Setophaga striata TR 3 

Blackpoll Warbler avibirds.com

WILSON’S WARBLER Cardellina pusilla TR 4 

Wilson's Warbler Michael Woodruff wiki

YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT Icteria virens TR 4 

Yellow-breasted Chat Emily Willoughby wiki

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)

CHECKLIST based 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

WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER . ABACO . BAHAMAS


WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER Melanerpes superciliaris

West Indian Woodpecker . Abaco . Bahamas (π 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.

SANDERLINGS ON THE BEACH . ABACO . BAHAMAS


Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

SANDERLINGS ON THE BEACH . ABACO . BAHAMAS

These little birds are far from rare, but watching a flock of them scuttling back and forth on the sand, in and out of the tide, is always a treat. And as you will notice, when they are foraging in earnest they not only stick their bills into the sand right up to the base… they go for total immersion of the head!

Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen) Sanderling, Delphi Beach Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen)

All photos: Keith Salvesen, Rolling Harbour Abaco

SPIDER WASPS & TARANTULA HAWKS: STEP AWAY FROM THIS INSECT


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

SPIDER WASPS  & TARANTULA HAWKS (PEPSIS WASPS)

I learn today that this week is Insect Week (or, as it may prefer, The International Week for Insect Appreciation and Protection). I’m all for it. There are annual Days for almost any creature you can think of – Warthogs; Fruit Bats; Porcupine Fish, and so on. There are few whole Weeks devoted to an entire taxonomic class. Here is an insect I wrote about several years ago. It’s an aggressive-looking creature that I found in the coppice on South Abaco. I could only get a partial shot of the insect, and I wondered whether to try to reach it and get a more complete shot. Perhaps I could have, but very fortunately for for me (as I later found out) I didn’t touch it.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

This creature turned out to be a Spider Wasp (aka Pepsis Wasp), of the Pompilidae family. The insect is familiarly known as a Tarantula Hawk, for reasons given in unsparing detail below. For it turns out that this creature would be the hardest bastard insect on Planet Bastard in the Galaxy Bastardium. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - TheCrotalusfreak

It’s lucky that I didn’t try to try to collect it to keep in a small box as a pet.  Note, for start, the scary eating apparatus… and it’s not for nibbling leaves as I had thought, but chopping up small insects. The leg claws and barbs are for pinning down its prey. You would not believe how unpleasant these little buddies are –  and that’s before we even mention the sting…

SPIDER WASPS IN ACTION

These wasps are known in some countries as “horse-killers”. The Pepsis wasp is a sub-species, and is called Tarantula Hawk because it hunts tarantulas and uses them in a most ingenious and cruel way… NB the BNT have rightly pointed out that these insects are unaggressive to humans. If you leave them alone, they will spare you. I’ve also read that “The tarantula hawk is relatively docile and rarely stings without provocation” Now read on to see if it might be sensible to provoke one or not.

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk - astrobradley

SCARY CRITTERS & LIVING LARDERS

(Trigger Warning: this is really rather gross)

SPIDER WASPS are ‘solitary’ insects that feed on ground spiders / tarantulas by stinging them to paralyse them, then eating them. In the most sinister way, the females also make use of spiders for breeding purposes. Hear this! They build a nest in a burrow, find a spider (a tarantula for choice), paralyse it with their sting, drag it to the nest and lay a single egg on its abdomen. Then they seal up the burrow. 

Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk mshandro

When the egg hatches, the larva chews a hole on the spider’s abdomen and enters a living larder. It gradually eat its host as it grows. The spider’s vital organs are left till last, so that the spider stays alive as long as possible until the larva has reached full-size. After several weeks, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates (often over winter). Finally, the wasp becomes an adult, bursts Alien-like from the spider’s abdomen (deftly evading Ripley), and tunnels out of the burrow… 

Do NOT try this at home or more than 10 yards from a medical centre Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk _ Paul Nylander

SPIDER WASPS: MORE FEARFUL FACTS

  • Their hunting improves with experience – the more spiders they eat, the quicker they find, attack & kill them
  • Males use ‘perch territories’ to scan for receptive females from a tall plant or other vantage point, a behaviour known as HILL-TOPPING
  • Adult wasps also feed on a variety of plants for nectar & pollen. They may become intoxicated on fermented fruit, which affects their ability to get around (I think we’ve all been there at some time…)
  • The female Pepsis gets her spider in two main ways: approaching a tarantula causing it to rear up defensively on its legs, thus exposing its abdomen to the sting or
  • She locates a tarantula’s burrow, using her sense of smell. She tricks the spider into emerging by tweaking the web at the burrow’s entrance or ‘intruding’ (see video below)
  • The wasp uses her long stinger to stab her prey. The poison rapidly paralyses the spider. She then drags it to her burrow, lays her egg onto the tarantula’s abdomen, seals the burrow and leaves. Job done
  • The hooked claws and barbs on the wasps’ long legs are weapons for grappling with victims
  • The stinger of a female tarantula hawk can be up to 7 mm (1/3 inch) long – and the sting is among the most painful insect stings in the world (see below)
  • Only the females sting (males may pretend to) because the stinger is linked to the ovipositor (egg-laying organ)
  • You can distinguish females from males by the curled antennae of the female. Mine was therefore female
  • The Pepsis wasp has (unsurprisingly) very few predators, though apparently roadrunners and bullfrogs may tackle them

Here is a hypnotically fascinating 3-minute video of the life-or-death struggle

SPIDER WASP  –v-  TARANTULA 

THE STING

The sting of these wasps is among the most painful of any insect, though the most intense pain lasts on a few minutes. Entomologist Justin Schmidt bravely submitted himself to the stings of various insects and described this pain as “…immediate, excruciating pain that simply shuts down one’s ability to do anything, except, perhaps, scream. Mental discipline simply does not work in these situations.” 

Schmidt produced his SCHMIDT STING PAIN INDEX The pain scale, based on 78 species, runs from 0 to 4, with 4 awarded for the most intense pain. Spider Wasps of the species Pepsis – i.e. Tarantula Hawks – have a sting rating of 4.0, described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric. A running hair drier has been dropped into your bubble bath” Only the bite of the Bullet Ant – and the sting of the Warrior Wasp – is ranked higher, with a 4.0+ rating, vividly described as pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail in your heel”

LIGHT RELIEF AFTER THE PAIN

1. In 1989, New Mexico chose the Tarantula hawk wasp as the official state insect. The choice seems to have been left to schoolchildren and I’m guessing here (or gender-stereotyping) but I suspect it was the boys’ choice that won…

2. Tarantula Hawk is a “psychedelic progressive metal band” from San Diego, Ca. Their short discography includes their debut Tarantula Hawk (CD/LP, 1998); Burrow (Live CD, 2000, self-released); and Untitled. The cover of their debut provides the perfect ending for this post, vividly depicting the colour and texture of the swirling fiery pain you could experience (and I don’t really mean from listening to the music…) 

UNDOUBTEDLY PAINFUL EXPERIENCE

ARGUABLY PAINFUL STING

Mr Gordon Sumner

AN ENJOYABLE STING

Credits:  Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour (1, 2, 7); TheCrotalusfreak (video clip) (3);  astrobradley (4);  mshandro (5); Paul Nylander (6)


Spider Wasp / Pepsis Wasp / Tarantula Hawk Abaco Bahama (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO by KEITH SALVESEN – a few copies now available


Delphi Club Guide to the Birds of Abaco (Jacket)

THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO

BIRDS OF ABACO was launched at the Delphi Club, Abaco, Bahamas in March 2014. I thought all copies had been sold or donated ages ago. In the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, a number of Abaconians asked if I could replace their ruined copies. Sadly I could not. Or so I thought. A current blitz to clear our house (40 years-worth of stuff) has unearthed 2 boxes of the book, so I have decided to sell them. Scroll to the end for further details. First, though, check out these birds… Blue-gray Gnatcatcher vocalizing.Abaco Bahamas.6.13.Tom Sheley a The originator of the idea for the book – as with the entire Delphi Club project – was Peter Mantle, the publisher. He took a risk based on my (then) quite feeble Rolling Harbour blog about the birds and other attractions of the island. The 2kg book took 16 months from conception to the arrival of three pallets of printed books on the dockside in Marsh Harbour, having travelled by a tortuous route from specialist printers in Italy. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen) As part of the project, Abaco schools, libraries and wildlife organisations were given copies for educational purposes. A percentage of profits was given to local wildlife causes. We quickly sold a great many copies,  and couldn’t have been more pleased with the response to the book, a unique publication for the Bahamas. The captions (below) about the book and content were written much nearer the time, so I’ll leave them as they are. I hope you enjoy the photos even if you don’t want a copy! Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) The Guide showcases the rich and varied bird life of Abaco, Bahamas and features both resident and migratory species including rarities and unusual sightings. The main features are as follows:
  • 272 pages with more than 350 photographs
  • 163 species shown in vivid colour – nearly two-thirds of all the bird species ever recorded for Abaco
  • Every single photograph was taken on Abaco or in Abaco waters
  • All birds are shown in their natural surroundings – no feeders or seed trails were used
  • Several birds featured are the first ones ever recorded for Abaco or even for the entire Bahamas
Clapper Rail Abaco Bahamas Tom Sheley
  • A total of 30 photographers, both experienced and amateur, contributed to the project
  • The book has had the generous support of many well-known names of Abaco and Bahamas birding
  • A complete checklist of every bird recorded for Abaco since 1950 up to the date of publication was compiled specially for the book.
  • A neat code was devised to show at a glance when you may see a particular bird, and the likelihood of doing so. Birds found at Delphi are also marked.
  • Specially commissioned cartographer’s Map of Abaco showing places named in the book
Least Tern_ACH3672 copy
  • Informative captions intentionally depart from the standard field guide approach…
  • …as does the listing of the birds in alphabetical rather than scientific order
  • Say goodbye to ’37 warbler species on consecutive pages’ misery
  • Say hello to astonishing and unexpected juxtapositions of species
Abaco_Bahama Yellowthroat_Gerlinde Taurer copy
  • The book was printed in Florence, Italy by specialist printers on Grade-1 quality paper
  • Printing took pairs of printers working in 6 hour shifts 33 hours over 3 days to complete
  • The project manager and the author personally oversaw the printing
Smooth-billed Ani pair GT
  • The book is dedicated to the wildlife organisations of Abaco
  • A percentage of the proceeds of sale will be donated for the support of local wildlife organisations
  • A copy of the book has been presented to every school and library on Abaco
Piping Plover BH IMG_1919

The book is published by the Delphi Club. The project was managed by a publishing specialist in art and architecture books. The author is the wildlife blogger more widely known on Abaco and (possibly) beyond as ‘Rolling Harbour’. Oh! So that would in fact be Mrs Harbour and myself. Well well! What were the chances?

BOOK LAUNCH BAHAMAS BIRDING ROYALTY (Tony White, Bruce Hallett, Woody Bracey), A COMMONER… & AN EMBARRASSING AMOUNT OF REFRESHMENT 

Painted Bunting male.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley

BOOK SALE DETAILS 2021
I am pricing the books at $120 inc. shipping. They are in England, heavy, and expensive to post. 1/3 of the price will be the flight of the birds across the Atlantic. If you would like a copy and do not already have my contact details, email me at rollingharbour.delphi@gmail.com
American Oystercatchers BH IMG_2000 copy 2

Photos: Tom Sheley (3,4,9,10),  Bruce Hallett (6,8), Gerlinde Taurer (1,7), Tony Hepburn (5), Keith Salvesen (2,11)

Cuban (Crescent-eyed) Pewee, Delphi, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

THE ORIGINAL FLYER

"Birds of Abaco" flyer

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS


Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS: DECORATIVE CORAL-DWELLERS

FLAMINGO TONGUE SNAILS Cyphoma gibbous are small marine gastropod molluscs related to cowries. The living animal is brightly coloured and strikingly patterned, but that colour only exists in the ‘live’ parts – the so-called ‘mantle’. The shell itself is usually pale, and characterised by a thick ridge round the middle. These snails live in the tropical waters of the Caribbean and the wider western Atlantic. Whether alive or dead, they are gratifyingly easy to identify.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THE IMPORTANCE OF CORAL

Flamingo tongue snails feed by browsing on soft corals. Often, they will leave tracks behind them on the coral stems as they forage (see image below). But corals are not only food – they provide the ideal sites for the creature’s breeding cycle.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Dive Abaco, Bahamas)Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

Adult females attach eggs to coral which they have recently fed upon. About 10 days later, the larvae hatch. They eventually settle onto other gorgonian corals such as Sea Fans. Juveniles tend to live on the underside of coral branches, while adults are far more visible and mobile. Where the snail leaves a feeding scar, the corals can regrow the polyps, and therefore the snail’s feeding preference is generally not harmful to the coral.

The principal purpose of the patterned mantle of tissue over the shell is to act as the creature’s breathing apparatus. The tissue absorbs oxygen and releases carbon dioxide. As it has been (unkindly?) described, the mantle is “basically their lungs, stretched out over their rather boring-looking shell”

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

THREATS AND DEFENCE

The species, once common, is becoming rarer. The natural predators include hogfish, pufferfish and spiny lobsters, though the spotted mantle provides some defence by being rather unpalatable. Gorgonian corals contain natural toxins, and instead of secreting these after feeding, the snail stores them. This supplements the defence provided by its APOSEMATIC COLORATION, the vivid colour and /or pattern warning sign to predators found in many animal species.

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

MANKIND’S CONTRIBUTION

It comes as little surprise to learn that man is now considered to be the greatest menace to these little creatures, and the reason for their significant decline in numbers. The threat comes from snorkelers and divers who mistakenly / ignorantly think that the colour of the mantle is the actual shell of the animal, collect up a whole bunch from the reef, and in due course are left with… dead snails and “boring-looking shells” (see photos below). Don’t be a collector; be a protector…

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

The photos below are of nude flamingo tongue shells from the Delphi Club Collection. Until I read the ‘boring-looking shell’ comment, I believed everyone thought they were rather lovely… I did, anyway. You decide!

Flamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen AbacoFlamingo Tongue Snail Shell, Keith Salvesen Abaco

Image Credits:  Melinda Rogers / Dive Abaco; Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Flamingo Tongue Snails (Melinda Rogers, Dive Abaco, Bahamas)

ROLLING + TROLLING


Reddish Egret (white morph ) Danny Sauvageau

Reddish Egret (white morph)

TROLLING

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 ) Phil Lanoue

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

Reddish Egret, Crossing Rocks, Abaco, Bahamas - Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

Reddish Egret dark morph (breeding plumage)

 

PIONEER NATURALISTS: ABACO & BAHAMAS BIRDS


Wilson's Plover & Chick - Sandy Walker, Abaco Bahamas

Wilson’s Plover & Chick, Abaco, Bahamas (Sandy Walker)

PIONEER NATURALISTS: ABACO & BAHAMAS BIRDS

WHO’S WHO? POTTED BIOGRAPHIES!

Who were all the people – all men, I’m afraid – who are immortalised in the names of birds they first discovered or recorded or collected specimens of or wrote about? In various previous bird posts I gave brief bios of the specific naturalist for whom the particular species under consideration was named. In due course I decided to bring all those who relate to the Bahamas in general and Abaco in particular, together in one place. 

John James Audubon (Am Mus Of Nat Hist)

John James Audubon with his specimen gathering kit

This is an interesting moment to be revisiting and revising the earlier collection. There is a groundswell of demand for reappraisal of the many people whose endeavours and achievements in former times were honoured in paint, in stone, on paper, or by associative naming. However, ‘the past is a foreign country, they did things differently then’, to adapt L. P. Hartley. Suffice it to say that already, naturalists are under scrutiny for views and behaviours that were of their time and are now considered debatable or unacceptable. Audubon (above) – he of the shearwater, warbler and oriole – is one ornithologist whose scientific methods and wider perspectives are now in question. As far as I know, this applies to none of the others featured below.

ALEXANDER WILSON 1766 – 1813

Wilson’s plover, warbler, phalarope,snipe, storm-petrel

Alexander Wilson: The Scot Who Founded American Ornithology

Alexander Wilson, the ‘father of ornithology’, was a scottish poet and writer. He specialised in ballads, pastoral pieces, and satirical commentary on the conditions of weavers in the mills. The latter got him into trouble when he overstepped the mark by making a vicious written attack on one mill owner. He was arrested, convicted and sentenced to burn the work in public (fair enough, perhaps) and imprisoned (somewhat harsh). After his release, he sensibly emigrated to America in 1794.

Wilson's Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Wilson’s Plover, Abaco Bahamas (Nina Henry)

Wilson became a teacher in Pennsylvania, and developed his interests in ornithology and painting. His ambitious plan was to publish a collection of illustrations of all the birds of North America. He travelled widely, collecting, painting, and securing subscriptions to fund a nine-volume American Ornithology (1808–1814). Of the 268 species of birds illustrated, 26 had never previously been described. Wilson died during the preparation of the ninth volume, which was completed and published by George Ord. Wilson predated John James Audubon (though not by many years) and  is generally acknowledged to be the founder of American ornithology. It appears that Audubon himself may have thought otherwise…

For examples of Wilson’s American Birds, check out the excellent Virginia University records HERE 

Wilson's Phalarope, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

Wilson’s Phalarope, Abaco Bahamas (Craig Nash)

 

CHARLES LUCIEN BONAPARTE 1803 – 1853

Bonaparte, Charles Lucien (1803-1857)Bonaparte’s gull, Zenaida dove

Charles Lucien Bonaparte, 2nd Prince of Canino and Musignano was a French biologist and ornithologist. He was 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 (see above).

Bonaparte's Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Bonaparte’s Gull, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Bonaparte studied the ornithology of the United States, and updated Wilson’s American Ornithology. His revised edition was published between 1825 and 1833. He was a keen supporter of a (then little-known) ornithologist John James Audubon. Rather sweetly, he created the genus Zenaida named after his wife, and applied 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’.

Zenaida Dove, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Zenaida Dove, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

RAMON LA SAGRA (1798 -1871)

Mr La Sagra La Sagra’s Flycatcher

Ramón Dionisio José de la Sagra y Peris was a multi-talented man, being a Spanish botanist and also a writer, economist, sociologist, politician, anarchist, and founder of the world’s first anarchist journal El Porvenir (“The Future”). He lived in Cuba and became director of Havana’s Botanical Garden. His name lives on arguably more significantly in ornithological than in anarchist circles (actually, an ‘anarchist circle’ must surely be a contradiction in terms…).

La Sagra's Flycatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

La Sagra’s Flycatcher, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

A Cuban stamp commemorates the death of Juan Gundlach, the naturalist who chose La Sagra’s name to bestow on the flycatcher, and who himself is honoured in the name of the Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachii 

Cuba Stamp La Sagra's Flycatcher

 

WILLIAM JOHN SWAINSON (1789 – 1855)

Mr SwainsonSwainson’s Hawk, Thrush & Warbler

Swainson was an English ornithologist, entomologist, conchologist, natural historian, and a gifted illustrator of the natural world. He was a pioneer of the new lithographic technology, which enabled quicker reproduction of his work than engraving. Swainson lent his name to a number of avian species, three of which may be found on Abaco – the Swainson’s Hawk, Thrush and Warbler. The hawk is a rare visitor; the thrush is a transient, passing through the Bahamas during migration; and the warbler is a hard-to-find winter resident. Below is the only known Swainson’s Hawk to be photographed on Abaco.

Swainson's Hawk, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Swainson’s Hawk, Abaco, Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

JOHN ISIAH NORTHROP (1861 – 91)

640px-Picture_of_John_Isaiah_NorthropBahama Oriole (Icterus northropi)

John Isiah Northrop, for whom the endemic BAHAMA ORIOLE Icterus northropi is named, entailed a bit more research. The link above will take you to my post about this very beautiful species that is sadly on the brink of extinction. Until recently it was found only on Abaco and Andros, but is now extirpated from Abaco and exists only in certain enclaves on Andros.

Bahama Oriole, Andros Bahamas (Mary Kay Beach)

Bahama Oriole, Andros Bahamas (Mary Kay Beach)

I can do no better than regurgitate the info provided by the University of Glasgow Library Research Annexe in relation to a fine  illustration from A Naturalist in the Bahamas (1910), reprinted in The Auk journal (below) at a time when Icterus northropi was still a mere subspecies:

The yellow and black Bahama Oriole (Icterus Northropi) is a bird species unique to the Bahamas. The bird was named for American ornithologist and zoologist, John Isiah Northrop (1861–91); the illustration comes from an account of the trip Northrop and his botanist wife, Alice, took to the Bahamas in 1889 which was published in his memory: A Naturalist in the Bahamas: John I. Northrop, October 12 1861-June 25, 1891; a memorial volume (Columbia University Press, 1910). It was edited and introduced by Henry Fairfield Osborn, professor of zoology at Columbia University where Northrop worked as a tutor and was killed in a laboratory explosion shortly (9 days) before the birth of his son John Howard Northrop (who became a Nobel prize-winning chemist)”.

 

JARED POTTER KIRTLAND 1793 –1877

260px-Jared_Potter_Kirtland_1793-1877Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii)

Jared Potter Kirtland was a naturalist, malacologist and politician, most active in Ohio where he served as a probate judge and in the Ohio House of Representatives. He was also a physician and co-founder of a University Medical School. Kirtland became one of America’s leading naturalists, with a particular interest in horticulture and sea shells. He published numerous natural history articles, and was a founder and president of the Kirtland Society of Natural History and the Cleveland Academy of Natural Science.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Kirtland’s Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Bruce Hallett)

Somewhere in amongst all this, he discovered or at least studied the warbler that was named after him. This rare ‘at risk’ bird breeds in small numbers only in certain areas of Michigan and Ohio, favouring jack-pine territory. The warblers overwinter in the Bahamas, including on Abaco. They a very hard to find – and to photograph, in my limited experience. We once made an expedition into remote backcountry scrubland and found 4 KIWAs within a couple of hours. My only photo to come out was of a small lemon obscured by twigs.

Kirtland's Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Unattributed Epic Fail)

Kirtland’s Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Unattributed Epic Fail)

If you want to fixate on a warbler species, this is the one. Wiki, very good on this sort of thing, has an excellent entry that will tell you all you need to know and far more besides: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirtland%27s_warbler

Kirtland's Warbler (Tom Sheley)

Kirtland’s Warbler (Tom Sheley)

JOHN JAMES AUDUBON (1785 – 1851)

Audubon's Shearwater, Warbler, OrioleAudubon’s Shearwater, Warbler, Oriole

John James Audubon never went to Abaco. The nearest he got was probably in 1820, when he made a field trip to the southern states, including Florida; or in the 1830s when he made at least one trip to Key West. One technique that set him apart from contemporaries was his method of producing naturalistic (as opposed to ‘stuffed bird’) drawings. It involved killing birds using very fine shot, and then using wires to pose them naturally, according to his field sketches. This contrasted with the usual technique of using a stuffed specimen as a model.

Audubon's Shearwater (Dominic Sherony Wiki)

Audubon’s Shearwater (Dominic Sherony)

In my original post I stated that no birds found on Abaco were specifically named for Audubon but that ‘it is almost impossible to dip a toe into ornithological history without immediately stubbing it on Audubon’s name’. As it turns out, the shearwater has raised its profile for the northern Bahamas, but in the saddest of circumstances. Every 2 years or so, there is a phenomenon called ‘die-back’ that seems to affect the pelagic shearwaters, and large numbers are washed up on the shorelines, either dying or already dead. A few can be rescued; few of those survive. The causes are complex: I wrote about this season’s die-back HERE if you want to know more.

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Yellow-rumped Warbler, Abaco Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Since the last outing, I have found another more tenuous avian link between Abaco and Audubon / his namesake birds. The yellowed-rumped warbler, a summer migrant to Abaco, is considered to be a close cousin of the myrtle warbler and Audubon’s warbler.

Audubon’s master-work was his renowned Birds of America, arguably the most famous bird tome ever. There are about 120 sets of the original book still in existence. They were incredibly expensive to produce in contemporary terms; and in modern times a set sold for $11.5 million at Sotheby’s London in 2010, setting the unbeaten record for the world’s most expensive book sale. Recently there was great excitement over the sale of another set at Christie’s New York, but the sale price was far lower, a mere $7,922,500… 

Audubon Birds of America.jpg

Credits: Bird pictures as shown; Encyclopaedia of Cleveland History, American Museum of Natural History, Britannica, University of Glasgow Library, The Auk, Audubon Society, Wiki, Magpie pickings

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS


Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

BLACK-FACED GRASSQUITS ON ABACO, BAHAMAS

A while back, Black-faced Grassquits Tiaris bicolor were honoured by the American Ornithological Union with a classification change from emberizid to tanager. For the reasons that follow, the species regarded this both as scientific promotion and as merited status elevation. I invited an authoritative Spokesquit to explain why.

*******************

Hi, human friends, I’m a black-faced grassquit  and I have a couple of observations to make on behalf of BFGs, if I may. First, we seem to be universally described by you as ‘common’, whereas we are actually quite refined in our behaviour. Secondly, the words most used to portray us are ‘dull’ and ‘drab’. And ‘stubby’. Well, excuse me… I – we – ask you to give us a second look. Maybe check out these images for a start.

black-faced-grassquit-adult-male-eating-berry-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheleyblack-faced-grassquit-foraging-berry-2-abaco-bahamas-tom-sheley

Unsurprisingly we were very excited when the perceptive classifications committee of the American Ornithological Union gave us an upgrade. That’s the way we saw it anyway. For many years we were classified under the heading emberizidae. 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)Black-faced Grassquit, Abaco (Tom Reed)

We kept company with some buddies like the handsome Greater Antillean Bullfinches, but also with a lot of New World sparrows, with whom we (frankly) never felt entirely comfortable. Annoyingly chirpy, for a start.

Black-faced Grassquit - Treasure Cay, Abaco (Becky Marvil)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Peter Mantle)

And so we officially became a type of tanager. They even reckon (rather late in the day, in my view) that we are closely related to Darwin’s finches. So, we are “common”, huh? Now we get to be with other birds that are dome-nesters like us. And how about this – we’ll be in the same list as some really cool birds…

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

How’s this for a colourful gang to be joining: scarlet tanager, summer tanager, rose-breasted grosbeak, indigo bunting, painted bunting – these are our new cousins. BFGs “dull” and “drab”? I don’t think so.

Black-faced Grassquit female, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

6 UNDULL FACTS ABOUT BFGS

  • Make grassy dome-nests (like Bananaquits) and line them with soft grasses
  • Both sexes build the nest together
  • Both share egg-sitting duties and later chick-feeding & maintenance
  • Though quite gregarious by day, for some reason they tend to roost alone
  • They have a short ‘display’ flight with vibrating wings and a strange buzzing call
  • Otherwise, their flight is ‘weak, bouncy & fluttering’ (Whatbird assessment)

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Alex Hughes)

THE EVERYDAY TWITTERING SONG 

THE DISPLAY BUZZING SONG 

Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Tom Reed)Black-faced Grassquit male, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Photo Credits: Alex Hughes (1, 10); Tom Sheley (2, 3); Bruce Hallett (4, 9); Tom Reed (5, 11); Becky Marvil (6); Peter Mantle (7); Gerlinde Taurer (8); Keith Salvesen (12); Larry Towning (13). Other Credits: ABA, AOU, Whatbird? (sound files)

Black-faced Grassquit (m) Lubbers Quarters, Abaco (Larry Towning).jpg

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1)


Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

ENDANGERED SPECIES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS (1)

May 15th is – was – Endangered Species Day worldwide. I missed it, of course I did. Typical. So, belatedly, here’s the first of a short series highlighting the Endangered Species of Abaco, Bahamas. It will include a couple of species formerly found on Abaco but now extirpated and hanging on in tiny numbers in specific habitats in the wider Bahamas archipelago. Regrettably, much of the endangerment has been caused, or substantially contributed to, by a dominant species that tends to prize self-interest over broader considerations.

ABACO PARROT

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahamas (Nina Henry)

These gorgeous and beloved parrots nest uniquely in limestone ground burrows in the island’s protected National Park in the south of the island, a vast area of pine forest. They are the big success story of Abaco conservation. I was fortunate enough to become tangentially involved with the parrots just as years of patient research and intensive fieldwork were beginning to impact positively on a dwindling and barely sustainable population (fewer than 1000 birds). Adults and particularly the chicks in breeding season were very vulnerable to the attentions of feral cats, non-native racoons and rats. Nests were protected, cameras were deployed, and predators eradicated.  

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot Nest & Chick, Bahamas (Caroline Stahala)

The work of scientists such as Caroline Stahala was (and still is) supported by local organisations such as Bahamas National Trust and Friends of the Environment Abaco. Local communities lent valuable encouragement and enthusiasm to the project. No one can fail to be uplifted by the sight of a flock of these parrots flying overhead, flaunting their bright green, red and blue feathers that flash in the sunlight. Even the sound of a flock squabbling in the trees like noisy children just let out of school is a joy. Here’s a sample, recorded at Bahama Palm Shores: see if you agree…

Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

10 years on, these gorgeous, raucous and intriguing birds have made a comeback, and the pleasure of their continuing visual and audible presence is hopefully secure. 

Credits: Nina Henry (1, 2); Caroline Stahala (3); Keith Salvesen (4) and audio clip

 

CUBAN PEWEE: PICTURE PERFECT ABACO (12)


CUBAN PEWEE: PICTURE PERFECT ABACO (12)

Cuban Pewee, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

The Cuban pewee Contopus caribaeus bahamensis (sometimes called the crescent-eyed pewee) is the smallest of the four so-called ‘tyrant’ species found on Abaco. These flycatchers are tiny compared with their kingbird cousins. You can clearly see the tiny hooked tip at the end of the upper beak, which helps to trap caught insects.

Like other flycatchers, the Cuban pewee has distinctive whiskers around the base of the beak. These are in fact feathers that have modified into bristles. They act as tactile sensors that help detect and target aerial insects. The pewee will then dart from its perch to intercept some passing tasty winged morsel (known sometimes as ‘hawking’), returning to the branch to swallow the snack.

Of all small unassuming brownish birds – and there are a great many – I consider the pewee to be one of the prettiest. It is also rewarding to photograph, being inquisitive by nature and as likely to pose for the camera as to fly away.

Photo: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco

 

SMALL BEE FOR GOOD CHEER


SMALL BEE FOR GOOD CHEERSmall Bee - Pollen-covered Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco)

I photographed this little bee a couple of days ago (nb not in Bahamas). Watching it foraging and getting covered in pollen was curiously relaxing, even though it kept moving from flower to flower with no regard to my camera focus. Life is so bizarre at the moment that it was good to see a creature happily getting on with its everyday life. 

Photo Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

 

RED HIBISCUS FLOWER: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (8)


Red Hibiscus Flower, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco)

Not much in the way of a caption needed here. As the poet said:  “He that loves not the Hibiscus has a Soul assuredly viscous…”

EASTER BUNNY: OUT STANDING IN ITS FIELD


EASTER BUNNY: OUT STANDING IN ITS FIELD

Rabbit, Dorset UK (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

Well, strictly more lying down than standing I suppose, not least because it had sensed me. When I was one-and-twenty* rabbits were a-plenty… and I might have shot it with a bun gun. Then I decided that shooting with a camera was the better way forward. 

*Nod to A.E.Housman; also to my erstwhile online natural scientist friend who led an outdoorsy life and blogged as ‘Out Standing in my Field’, a self-referencing ID never bettered.

LUNAR SEA + CRATERS = SUPERMOON


LUNAR SEA + CRATERS = SUPERMOON

Supermoon - annotated mapping (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco)

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: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour Abaco

GREEN HERON: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (6)


GREEN HERON: PICTURE PERFECT ON ABACO (6)

Green Heron, Abaco, Bahamas (Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour)

We saw this green heron (Butorides virescens) at Gilpin Pond, South Abaco. It’s an excellent location for waterbirds and waders, although in hot weather when the water level drops an algal bloom colours the water with a reddish tinge. The coppice around the pond is good for small birds; parrots pass through on their daily flights to and from the forest; and the beach the other side of the dunes can be excellent for shorebirds. 

We watched this heron fishing for some time. I took quite a few photos of the bird in action, including its successes in nabbing tiny fish. However there were two problems with getting the perfect action shot. First, the bird’s rapid darts forwards and downwards, the fish grabs, and the returns to perching position with its snack were incredibly quick. Secondly, my slow reactions and innate stupidity with camera settings militated against a sharp ‘in-motion’ image to be proud of. So I’m afraid you get the bird having just swallowed its catch.

Photo: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour