Ricky Johnson, Abaco, Bahamas


Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 1

No one who knew Ricky, or even merely met him, could doubt his charisma, his infectious enthusiasm for life, and for Abaco and its natural history. His Abaco Nature Tours were legendary. As non-islanders, we knew that a day out in Ricky’s company would be a hectic and memorable one. He knew where all the birds were to be found – and enticed the shy ones out of the coppice with his trademark calls. He was all-seeing and all-knowing – information about Abaco’s natural history, social history, geology, poisonous plants and bush medicine would stream from him irrepressibly throughout the day. Ask him a question? He’d know the answer. He seemed never so happy as when he spotted something and pulled the truck over, leaping out with the door open so all could hear his running commentary as he explained the properties of some small plant that most would have failed to notice. Accompanied, of course, by a gag and THAT laugh.

Ricky Johnson Bahama Palm Shores 3

In many ways, it is impertinent for occasional blow-ins to become involved in what is the island’s grief over Ricky’s tragically young passing. However in the short time we knew him – far too short – we both came to feel we had known him for many years. That was the Ricky effect. He was a joy to know, and we will remember him with joy as well as with sadness.

Ricky Johnson Pishing Woodstars Crossing Rocks Abaco

Land Crab : Ricky Johnson 2


A few weeks back, I wrote a post called ‘LAND CRABS: HOW TO STALK & WRESTLE THEM. It features stills of famed Abaco nature guide Ricky Johnson in a face-off with a land crab at Bahama Palm Shores. I noted that the large, heavy claw of these crabs is in fact the less worrying one, being used to intimidate and to grip. It’s the small claw that you need to watch out for… 

I have now sorted out an annoying camera card v Mac format incompatibility problem (well, $30 of software has dealt with it. Dear Apple, please make friends with the Panasonic Lumix asap) and to my great surprise I find that I took a video of Ricky and a land crab that perfectly demonstrates the claw point. He did mess with the large claw, but he wisely left the small one well alone… 

The footage starts with Ricky’s trademark laugh to get you into the right spirit (it’s impossible to go on one of his Eco-Tours and not have fun while learning). The volume of the commentary drops off a bit halfway through. I haven’t found the gizmo for changing the audio during the video: it’s all or nothing, I’m afraid

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/47535538]

If you want to find out more about Land Crabs on Abaco – including Hermit Crabs – you won’t do much better than to check out the comprehensive account by ‘Bob H’ on Yahoo! Answers ABACO LAND CRAB FACTS

Ricky the guide? Here he is in full-on enthusiastic guide mode, ‘pishing’ for male Bahama Woodstar hummingbirds in low open coppice near Crossing Rocks. He has just had a responding call and is keeping us quiet while he locates the bird

ADDENDUM Tragically in the second half of 2012 Ricky developed a horrible disease that spread rapidly and unstoppably. Within 6 months he was dead, not yet 50. His sad passing, and the cruel manner of it, made me wonder if I should take down some of the many posts in which he features. But he would not have wanted that, so I have left them unaltered. 


Those who braved the video may have wondered about the guitar chord at the beginning and end. A few – of a certain age – may have thought it familiar. One or two may have recognised it as the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night (Beatles 1964). It is one of the most controversial and interesting chords in modern music, with more theories about its exact construction than you can shake a Rickenbacker 12-string at (as played by George Harrison). There have been more than a dozen claimed ‘correct’ chord  identities. According to Harrison, it is in fact simply an ‘F add 9’ chord augmented by Macca’s crucial 5th fret, A string ‘D’ on his Hofner bass. Trouble is, there are half a dozen ways to play ‘F add 9’ at various points on the neck, and most of them don’t sound quite right… But that’s enough about that. Anyone who wants to follow this musical meander further  – much further – should click HERE===>>> THAT CHORD



Only kidding. But the following sequence taken at Bahama Palm Shores, Abaco during a recent Eco-tour with Ricky Johnson certainly looks as if they are squaring up for a fight… LAND CRABS (also known as Terrestrial Crabs) are found throughout the world. The large claw looks like the one to avoid, but is in fact the crab’s defensive / aggressive warning to back off. It’s the smaller claw you have to watch out for…

Ricky carefully stalks his opponent, waiting for the right moment to move in

Ricky, now in the crouched fighting position, challenges his opponent by pointing at the ground

The crab accepts the challenge and prepares to engage

First the massive left claw is raised to warn Ricky to back off…

Meanwhile the right claw is poised, ready to inflict the maximum damage when Ricky makes his move

The fearsome face persuades Ricky to show us some parrots instead… SCORE: CRAB 1, RICKY 0


I checked this out, never having tried it. I found an article by Jack Hardy at oii/net that sets out some methods. See also Brigitte Carey’s comment on the ‘step-on-them-from-behind-wearing-sensible-shoes’ way:

“How do you catch them? Let me count the ways… Expert catchers put their left palm in front of the crab to attract its attention then scoop it up from the rear and have it in a croacker bag in an instant. Others use a stick or machete to pin the crab down then take a hold on the rear of the shell where the biters cannot reach. Sometimes the back two legs are gripped. You can use your foot to hold them in place so long as you have stout footwear. One Marsh Harbour man told me he uses two-foot long wash-house tongs to clasp the contentious crustaceans”


RJ’s eco-tour is not just about parrots and other avians. He is also an expert in the plant and tree life, and a great deal else. Here are some of the flower / tree images from the day, to which I will (may?) put names in due course. But frankly the pictures are far more satisfying than the knowledge that something is or is not a variant of a Cuban Popcata Petal Tree. Or whatever. If you feel like it, fast forward to the end of this post for a blue hole, a butterfly and a team photo…

THATCH PALM Thrinax radiata

 CORAL HIBISCUS Hibiscus schizopetalus

BOUGAINVILLEA Bougainvillea Spectabilis

SAPODILLA Manilkara zapota

Three images of a STAGHORN FERN Platycerium bifucatum, an epiphyte or ‘air plant’: one that grows upon another plant non-parasitically

Having left the parrots and the very lovely private garden we were shown round (where most of the plant shots were taken), Ricky took us to a blue hole nearby. The choice of 3 was narrowed down by the forest fires raging in the area (see FOREST FIRE post. The 2 largest were in a part of the pine forest that was busily engulfed in flame and dark smoke. So we went to the smallest.

However, what we could see was merely the entrance to a large and deep cave system in the limestone rock, the extent of which is still being explored (though not by me, thank heavens). The rock to the left was actually covered by 6 inches of water so clear that you could not see it – as one of our group discovered when he stepped onto the rock…

It was here that we saw ATALA HAIRSTREAK butterflies. This one is a different one from the one in the main BUTTERFLY post… but even their mothers can’t tell


And so to the final photo of the day, taken as we sustained ourselves… before having to leave rather sharpish when the wind changed direction and the smoke and fire decided we might be worth incinerating. Possibly Ricky, in the background on his cellphone, is calling for help…


During our parrot observations, we had plenty of opportunity to see other birdlife. We were especially fortunate to be able to visit a large and very beautiful private garden on the shoreline at Bahama Palm Shores which Ricky showed us round; and to meet the benevolent owner who permits this intrusion. We saw between us a wide variety of birds in or near the garden, of which these are a small sample – starting with my favourite bird of all

Western Spindalis / Stripe-headed Tanager

Western Spindalis / Stripe-headed Tanager

                                                           POINTING AND SHOOTING                                                  THE TEAM PHOTO

Black-faced Grassquit

Black-faced Grassquit (?juvenile)

Red-legged Thrush

West Indian Woodpecker

I’ve no idea. Small. Dark. Finchy. Grassquit? Hard to see. Any ideas? Sorry

Team Leader Ricky