by Steve and Caryl Baron
15 - 27 March 1999
Leaving New York in a snowstorm (our flight was one of the very few NOT cancelled), landing in Ft. Lauderdale in a thunderstorm with 20 minutes between flights, it seems a miracle to arrive at sunny Treasure Cay at the same time as our luggage. This was a vacation, our purpose being to relax, fish, explore the cays and beaches, get to know more about the birds. Monday afternoon: We wander down to Café Florence, a palm warbler comes up to the table for proffered tidbits. We walk about, and a Cuban Emerald Hummingbird obligingly hovers around a bougainvillea for 15 minutes or so. Amazing how its green camouflages it in the leaves.
6:30am Coffee and sticky bun at Café Florence, with House Sparrows and Palm Warbler vying for crumbs. Woody, one of the regulars, tells us the National Park has been burned out by boar hunters, the parrots will be elsewhere. Lots of birds around the villa: Red-legged thrush, a robin-size gray bird, black throat, bit of white on chin, orange-red legs. Mrs. Durrell (in her book, "Innocent Island") calls it the Red-legged Tomato-eating Thrush for its annoying habit of getting to her prize tomatoes before she does. Cuban Emerald Hummingbird on the electric wire. Redwing blackbirds, M & F & juv. (charcoal and black), abundant and vocal, especially on electric wires. Bananaquit, charming little yellow-bellied bird with black cap, curved beak with red spot, white throat. Eastern Wood Peewee - fairly common consumer of abundant supply of flying insects, especially in the scrub near the beach.
Around the villas and marina:
English sparrows, common. Laughing gulls, Bonaparte's gull, first year (black bill), Ring-bill gulls. Palm warblers, amazingly tame. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - charming little bird in casuarinas Great Crested Flycatcher- on electicity wire. One benefit of otherwise unsightly wires is it's much easier to see a bird there than in dense foliage.
Seen while bonefishing in the mangrove flats on the "back side" of Treasure Cay: Belted Kingfisher, Green Heron (2), Royal Tern, Great Egret, Semipalmated Plover, Turkey Vulture - very common in the Abacos.
Osprey competes with a Turkey Vulture for a fish. The fish is dropped in the struggle, both birds fly off. Blue Heron -ardea herodias - athrone atop a flying-buttress-like red mangrove root as we return to the dock. He's magnificent, huge, with what looks like a pale beard down his neck and chest and a large head, huge beak. He's the biggest old wizened grand-daddy of a heron I've ever seen. I'm sure he knows where the fish are.
Left 11:45am. Coffee at Forence, reading in the garden, then a spur of the moment decision to head for Sandy Point. Lunch at Mangoes in Marsh Harbour. Stopped at Casuarina Point, and looked in at Different of Abaco, Nettie Symonette's rustic ecotourism resort, where it turns out CNN is filming tomorrow: one segment on birds, one on bonefishing, one on bush medecine. Nettie's been building this lovely place for six years. No one there today but the coots, moorhens, and blue-winged teal.
Eurasian Collared Doves, very common all over Abaco, the ever-present wake-up call at dawn.
Smooth-billed Ani: several hang out at Beach Road entrance to Treasure Cay mid-day, not early am or evening.
Laughing Gulls, Turkey Vulture's,Bahama Yellowthroat, come to feed on bread in garden and birdbath, Common Ground-Doves on the walks and paths, quite small, lovely subtle colors. White-winged Dove noticable by white on their wing and tail, especially when they fly up from the grass. Northern Mockingbird, abundant, vocal, but did not see Bahama Mockingbird Catbird, Redwing Blackbird, abundant on wires and in gardens; juv. black/grey streaky. English Sparrows, abundant American Kestrel - falco sparverius - Hispaniola race with white cheeks edged by single black semicircle behind rather than double black stripe on face - seen at Casuarina Point settlement on electric wire.
American Coot, Common Moorhen, Blue-winged Teal - Different of Abaco resort. Brown Pelican - pelecanus occidentalis, 3 adult, 2 imm; Great Blue Herons - ardea herodias - young.- Sandy Point dock -. Old road off Sandy Point airstrip, we hear but do not see Abaco Parrots - amazona leucocephala - at Sunset. No see-ums abundant and biting viciously. Itch lasts more than a week, bites take over two weeks to disappear.
Thursday night is $10 steak and disco night at Nancy's Seaside Restaurant. The hiphop and rasta music can't be escaped anywhere in town. A fairly inebriated resgular adds local color to our table. Two MBA candidates have flown in (2-seater Cessna) for a week's bonefishing. At Sandy Point, you buzz the town before landing at the airstrip, and someone will drive out from town to pick you up. They spend their evening tying bonefish flies, an advantage since you can't buy them on the island. There are few places like this remaining on the planet. For a real touch of surrealism, a Disney cruise ship from Gorda Cay stops offshore on Wednesdays and Sundays. Sandy Point's residents decided they did not want Disney ships disembarking on their territory, so Gorda Cay, originally a private island and, in the ‘70's an outlaw drug traffic hotspot, has been transformed by the Disney organization into a manufactured fantasy Caribbean theme park for day jaunts off their cruise ship(see "Blackbeard Doesn't Stop Here Anymore", Outside mag, about October 1998.)
Fishing: Paul Pinder, our bonefish guide, is happily knowledgable about more than bonefish - is adept at identifying mangrove snappers, shad, jellyfish, birds
Belted Kingfisher - ceryle alcyon
2 semipalmated plovers - calidris pusilla
Great Egret - ardea alba
Common Terns - sterna hirundo diving near boat Bue Heron ardea herodias
Rays, lemon sharks, 1 nurse shark, starfish, sponges, jellyfish: round and sponge-like with 2 petal-like things in center; Paul nets a conch for bait, which makes good sashimi later; mangrove snappers, young shad, needlefish, barracuda, sandfish (sand-colored fish with large v-shaped mouth on underside of head with nasty backward-pointing teeth)
March 20 -- Treasure Cay area
Smooth-billed Ani - Ccrotophagia ani
Crescent-eyed Peewee - Contopus caribaeus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Polioptila caerulea
Blue Herons, mature and imm.
Great Egrets - Ardea alba
Snowy egrets - Egretta thula
Bananaquit - Coereba flaveola
Blakpoll Warbler (non-breeding) - Dendroica striata
Another perfect day, less wind than Tuesday. A Monjack Day, as Bill says. We gather up snorkel gear, one rod and 5 shrimp and head out in the whaler. Two pairs of dolphins are arcing in the water and swim very close to the boat when we slow down. An auspicious sign.
Bill poles us upa creek on Monjack. Lots of mangrove snappers at the edges, in and out of the flying buttresses of the red mangrove roots. Several small sharks lurking about. Midsize 5-pointed red starfish. A few needlefish. Some other small fry, perhaps shad. A small barracuda or three. In a flat, a school of bonefish rushes across the bow, into their mud, and disappears. Time to leave the creek. We pass a small turtle on the way. There are several docks and houses, quite a bit of newly cleared land, and a few homes being constructed. Monjack will change.
At the southern tip of Monjack, we disembark and walk around to the ocean side. There's sand, then a section of rough limestone - eroded into sharp, pointy, treacherous stuff by the sea. Whelks (?) abound in the interstices where the tide still splashes, snails in the dryer band, hermit crabs in shells stolen from the former two in the nearby sand. Casuarinas line the beach; the sand below them is layered with needles which will someday make it more like soil, more hospitable to other plants. Beach shrubs grow just beyond the casuarinas.
A short walk brings us to a four mile long stretch of lovely beach protected from the heavy seas by the reef that lies perhaps a hundred yards offshore. As we leave the beach a large shark, perhaps 5-6 feet, swims along the beach, almost right up onto the sand. We head to New Plymouth on Green Turtle for lunch at The Wrecking Tree.
The chief industry of the Bahamas in the 19c. was wrecking - licensed salvaging from cargo ships that broke up offshore. We purchase two crawfish from a man who is hacking them on the dock. He wants to weigh them, so as not to cheat either us or him, so we follow him to his shop, a shack to the left of our restaurant. We weave through the hanging laundry and cables, ropes, batteries and assorted debris while roosters, hens, little chicks, and four or five young dogs scatter about the yard. The man says yesterday he dove, got conch. Might have some tomorrow. Today, his friend dove for lobster. Announces the 2 lobsters weigh exactly a pound.
A palm warbler flits about the wrecking tree while we consume cracked conch, fried of course, like all island food, with the standard french fries, cole slaw, lime, tartar sauce (much improved by the addition of Louisiana Hot Sauce and lime juice). A TV cruises low, laughing gulls dive into the harbor, cormorants perch on the posts of the far dock. There are three ducks, one with a white throat, one with a white cheek, one with a white chest - must be hybrids, don't resemble anything in my book.
Just around the north end of Green Turtle, we snorkel in about three feet of crystal clear aqua. A big barracuda hovers nearby, and Steve chases him off, but the 'cuda keeps coming back. After a while, we decide he's too curious and retreat to the boat.
7:00 am Cape May Warbler - dendroica tigrina - rusty cheek - high in tree in front of villas opposite Café Forence.
9:00 am Bike ride on rusty old "Bahama bouncers". Left on the second road, the paved one past the golf course; where road goes left, continue straight past chain onto double-track road through Casuarinas. This rough limestone road continues several miles, seems to be a sort of causeway through the mangroves. I try to shift to a higher gear, and the cable disintegrates. Warblers flit about in the casuarinas along the road, staying always out of sight. We stop to view the marsh, spot a Yellow-crowned NIght Heron stalking small fish and crustaceans in the shallow water (near low tide - less water and more bird activity than earlier in the week at noon) and what was most probably a Little Blue Heron, who kept becoming invisible among the reflections on the water and silhouettes of the mangrove roots. A bit further in, a Great Egret on the opposite shore. A pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatchers noisily hold their ground in the thick shrubbery on our right. A TV floats above. We stop and climb an old, rotten stairway to an old, rotten platform, being careful to avoid the poisonwood growing all around and through it. Nothing to be seen from the top. A few more curves and we arrive at the end of the road, at the edge of the Sea of Abaco, opposite the harbor entrance. Cormorants perch atop the posts of an old wreck offshore, near a small island. A group of sandpipers take flight, very skittish.
Lunch at Mangoes, March Harbor:three ducks quack and nip at each other under the dock. I think all the ducks are mutants, hybrids. One of these is beige with dark grey bill and brown feet. Another is dark with a white ring on its neck, orange bill with dark tip, orange feet. Third is similar but body is pinto black/white. These are not in my bird book. Maybe Northern Pintails and shovelers are interbreeding.
1.American Coot - Fulica americana
2.American Kestrel - Falco sparverius - Hispaniola race
3.Bahama Yellowthroat - Geothlypis rostrata
4.Bananaquit - Coereba flaveola
5.Belted Kingfisher - Ceryle alcyon
6.Blackpoll Warbler (non-breeding) - Dendroica striata
7.Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias - mature and imm.
8.Blue-gray Gnatcatcher - Polioptila caerulea
9.Blue-winged Teal - Anas discors
10.Bonaparte's Gull - Larus philadelphia - first year (black bill)
11.Brown Pelican - Pelecanus occidentalis - 3 adult, 2 imm.
12.Cape May Warbler - Dendroica tigrina
13.Gray Catbird - Dumetella carolinensis
14.Common Ground-Doves - Columbina passerina
15.Common Moorhen - Gallinula chloropus
16.Common Terns - Sterna hirundo
17.Crescent-eyed Peewee - Contopus caribaeus
18.Cuban Emerald Hummingbird - Chlorostilbon ricordii
19.Eastern Wood-Pewee - Contopus virens
20.English/House Sparrows - Passer domesticus
21.Eurasian Collared Doves - Streptopelia decaocto
22.Great Crested Flycatcher - Myiarchus crinitus
23.Great Egrets - Ardea alba
24.Green Heron - Butorides virescens (2)
25.Laughing Gull - Larus atricilla
26.Northern Mockingbird - Mimus polyglottos
27.Osprey - Pandion haliaetus
28.Palm Warbler - Dendroica palmarum
29.Red-legged Thrush - Turdus plumbeus
30.Red-winged Blackbird - Agelaius phoeniceus - male, female, juv.
31.Ring-billed Gull - Larus delawarensis
32.Royal Tern - Sterna maxima
33.Semipalmated Plover - Charonidus semipalmatus
34.Smooth-billed Ani - Crotophagia ani
35.Snowy Egret - Egretta thula
36.Turkey Vulture - Cathartes aura -
37.White-winged Dove - Zenaida asiatica
Though birding was not our main activity, it was a pleasure to have the new and beautiful "A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies" with us on Abaco, not only for our own edification, but to introduce our hosts to the fact that not all the little yellow birds in their garden are the same. Interestingly, the Treasure Cay Library was selling a few copies of the old Paterson book, with it's black and white sketches.
Tony White's "A Birder's Guide to the Bahama Islands" was especially useful, since there are virtually no road signs on the island, and those that exist are homemade and tend to blend into the landscape. Knowing at what mile past the airpost circle to look for the turnoff to Cherokee is very valuable information indeed.
Caryl & Steve Baron
New York City