Hello from Bermuda – August 2020. Half way through August, our extremely hot and humid days continue, and we are in desperate need of rain. Even through our island is just 23 miles long and a mile wide, it is incredible how much the amount of rainfall can differ from parish to parish. Eastern parishes have received more rain, but in general it seems as if something is keeping the rain off of Bermuda and the radar currently shows heavy and extensive showers out in the Atlantic Ocean, but once again these showers are missing us.
The last blooms from my gardens
We catch our water on our white-washed roofs. The water runs through gutters into tanks below our houses. Every week I lift the heavy tank lid on my porch and use a bamboo cane to test how much water I have left in my tank. I am doing OK but have cut down to watering my gardens only every other day. This means that most of my annuals have perished. Only the hardiest of perennials can survive two days without water beneath the brutal baking sun. As a result, my gardens are looking a bit bare, but now is definitely not the time to plant anything. Hurricane season is upon us, and through October we Bermudians will be keeping our eyes on any systems forming in the Atlantic Ocean.
My beautiful chickens are also feeling the heat. Heat stroke is a serious issue and pets and livestock can die in this weather. How do I keep my chickens cool – with fans, ice water, as much shade as I can provide with hanging shade cloths, and a daily foot soak in a tub of ice water. That’s right, I soak my chickens’ feet! They love it!
Spice and Sugar enjoying a cool water foot soak.
Home and garden improvements have kept me busy and unfortunately, I have not had nearly enough Ocean time, but I did have a quick snorkel a few days ago and in just one hour I encountered many beautiful species of marine life. Of all the magnificent marine animals one can encounter around Bermuda, would you believe that one of my favorite species is a marine snail. (Terrestrial snails tend to make me swear, because they absolutely destroy my gardens). Bermuda actually has an endemic terrestrial snail which was believed to be extinct for nearly forty years. Unbelievably, a small population was discovered in the middle of our city Hamilton a few years back and the snails are now being bred at Chester Zoo and released into nature reserves here. Land snails are generally drab in colour, but marine snails, especially Flamingo tongues, are a completely different story.
Flamingo tongues have got to be one of the most beautiful animals on our planet. The first time I found one I simply could not believe my eyes, and every time I have found one since I am still completely blown away by their beauty. What is difficult for a lot of people to understand is their colouring. The beautiful patterns you see are not the snail’s shell, but its mantle. When Flamingo tongues are disturbed, they retract their mantle and what you will then see is a white shell. Because of their beauty, foolish people will collect them, but once dead they will be left with a colourless shell.
Flamingo tongues are predators. They spend their days feasting on soft corals, mainly sea fans and sea rods. I generally see them in twos or threes and usually off shore, but the ones seen here were very shallow in just three feet of water. What a treat!
All species of snails and slugs are gastropods. As you have just seen, marine gastropods can be quite spectacular. Another species of marine snail you can find here if you know where to look is the Queen Conch. These huge beautiful snails used to be lot more common in our waters. Considered a delicacy, they would have been plucked off the ocean floor to be eaten. In years past, so many queen conchs were collected by islanders that their numbers crashed. They are now protected so they can continue to creep about the ocean floor for what may be up to 40 years. I have only seen a handful of Queen conchs in my life time.
During this week’s snorkel I encountered another favorite gastropod of mine, the Zebra Slug Hypselodoris zebra. Zebra slugs are one of around a dozen species of nudibranch found here in Bermuda. If you want to feast your eyes on some incredible beauty, do a bit of a web search on our planet’s nudibranchs. Unfortunately, we definitely got the short end of the stick with our nudis here in Bermuda. The world’s most vibrant nudis live in the Pacific Ocean. Most of ours are very small and not all that colourful, except for the Zebra slug. Again, I will never grow tired of seeing them.
The center image above shows a juvenile zebra slug. You can see how different its coloration is. This animal is about 1 cm long and when I found it I thought I had discovered a new species for Bermuda. I was wrong.
Here are a few more nuidbranchs found in Bermuda.
Aeolid – pelagic. Found drifting on objects.
Tiny Tritonia hammerorum eating a sea fan. These nudis are about the size of a grain of rice
Elysia – another super tiny nudibranch. Do you see how camouflage it is? I honestly don’t know how I manage to find these little beings
This nudi is the only one of this species I have ever managed to find. I found this individual two years ago and I have been looking for another one ever since! This is the Fringe-back nudibranch, Dondice occidentalis.
The spot I chose to snorkel this week was shallow and rocky and dominated by soft corals. Bermuda is quite far north for coral growth so we do not have as many species of corals as tropical islands have (we are subtropical). Here are what our typical coral reefs look like. Except for the brain corals, most corals seen here are soft corals.
The large fish seen is a rainbow parrotfish, the largest parrot fish in the Atlantic Ocean. Despite their size they are ridiculously nervous and rarely can I get anywhere near one. Many species of parrotfish inhabit the reefs surrounding Bermuda. They keep our reefs healthy by removing algae from them. Our reefs would not survive without them.
During August I am usually in Vermont. Of course with coronavirus outbreaks I have been unable to get there yet. I am trying to get over there at the end of September to check on our property. Fortunately a good friend of ours has been visiting our house once a week to keep our humming bird feeders topped up and fresh. We have so many flowers blooming in our perennial beds right now that our hummingbirds are not drinking much nectar. I miss them so much I feel like my heart is breaking. The ruby throated hummingbirds that visit and breed at our property every summer are my absolute favorite animals on this planet.
Here are some images I took of wildlife around our Vermont home last summer during August. Clockwise top to bottom: Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Green Darner, Eastern Newt, Milbert’s Tortoiseshell, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Common Snapper Hatchling, White-throated Sparrow, Yellow-rumped Warbler.
Stay safe where ever you are, and I will be back in a couple weeks with a lot more wildlife!