Welcome to Bermuda Shorts – June 2020. This month Jessica tells us about the beautiful white-tailed tropic birds that are now nesting on the island and takes us into the underwater world of Bermudian sea grass bays. Here we encounter an array of wonderful wildlife brilliantly captured by Jessica’s expert photography. Just enjoy the words and images….
Hello from a sweltering Bermuda. Our southwest summer winds have begun to blow and endless hot and sticky days stretch out before us. It is hard to explain how humid it is here right now, especially if you are not familiar with high humidity. Everything is wet. The walls drip, clothes will not dry on the clothes line, glasses fog up constantly and hydration becomes very important to replace lost fluids from sweat. Every task is a sweaty one, including watering the gardens before the sun has even risen.
Hot sticky days are loved by an array of pests which work around the clock to destroy my much-loved gardens. Also currently invading my gardens are invasive house sparrows, kiskadees and starlings, but I am happy to see our cardinal pair throughout each and every day feasting on my sunflowers which we grew specifically for pollinators and, as the flowers start to die, the cardinals. Last year this pair fledged two chicks. Hopefully they will do so again this year.
Bermuda’s treefrogs are happy as can be too with the hot moist nights, and their trilling is almost deafening during the evenings right now. My garden lizards are also enjoying the heat, especially beautiful Jake who gets tossed cockroaches to munch on throughout the day.
Right now, along our coast, in rocky cliff burrows, hundreds of white-tailed tropic bird chicks are eating, pooping and growing a lot. Every spring around 4000 pairs of these sea birds (locally known as longtails) make their way back to our shores to nest. They represent about 60% of the North Atlantic breeding population. Longtails winter at sea. The first birds begin to arrive in late February/early March and each of us Bermudians is always keen to spot the first returning birds. Their much-anticipated arrival means spring is finally here.
After a lot of aerial battles and courting, successful longtail pairs will find a suitable cliff hollow to lay one speckled egg. Hopefully all eggs have hatched by now and chicks are developing and ready to fly before any hurricanes roll in. Although hurricane season has already started, our worst hits are usually in September. Chicks that have not fledged by then are unlikely to survive as no matter how high up on the cliffs their nests are, they will be flooded by crashing waves.
There are not too many things cuter than a longtail chick. Quite often their nests are at ground level so you can literally peep into burrows and easily see them. Unfortunately, this makes them very vulnerable to predators such as dogs and cats especially since once the chicks are a week old, they will be left all alone whilst their parents return to the open Ocean to hunt for them.
Chicks that survive to fledge must then survive their first flight. Longtails have very weak legs, and even if they did not, most chicks must fly from the nest straight over the Ocean. If they fail to fly strongly on their first flight, they will fall into the Ocean and potentially drown. Every summer, longtail chicks are rescued from the Ocean’s surface by tourists and islanders. Quite often all these chicks need is to dry off and have another crack at it.
During the summer, I rarely bring my SLR out. Cameras really do not like sunscreen, humidity and sweat. Plus, to avoid mold developing I keep my camera in an air-conditioned closet. As soon as it is taken outside the lens will fog up. Instead of battling ongoing lens fog and worse, I just leave my SLR in my closet. I do venture out on most days with another camera though, my little Olympus tough TG5. Where do I take it? Into the Ocean of course.
A true islander, there is no place I would rather be than in the Ocean during the summer. Because we are sub-tropical, our Ocean does get cold in the winter (low 60’s) and I always look forward to hot summer seas where our water temperature can reach over 80 degrees. Currently, it is around 77 degrees, still a bit too cold for me!
Just as any wild area of land can be divided into different habitats, so can our Ocean. When people think of Bermuda, they probably think of pink sand beaches and coral reefs, but I love to spend my time exploring our sheltered sandy bays where algae and sea grass provides shelter and homes to many different species of marine life.
In my next blog I will introduce you to some of the life that can be found on our colourful coral reefs, but for now let’s take a look at just some of the life that can be discovered in our sheltered sea grass bays.
Green Turtles – these juvenile green turtles are feasting on depleted sea grass beds. The turtle on the right is being accompanied by a remora.
Although a few different species of turtles can be found in the Atlantic Ocean surrounding Bermuda, the Green turtle is the most common. When Bermuda was settled, green turtles were nesting on our beaches. Of course, humans killed so many of them over the years that turtles rarely, very rarely, nest here anymore. Adult green turtles do not tend to come close to our shores. The turtles we see in our shallow bays are juveniles that would have hatched on beaches elsewhere. They venture into Bermuda to feast on our sea grass (also called turtle grass). Unfortunately, we have so many turtles eating our sea grass that the beds have been severely depleted. Would you believe that we are finding juvenile green turtles starving to death? An absence of sharks in our water means there are no predators for turtles. Of course, green turtle conservation here is a lot more complicated than this. There are a lot of publications on it.
Split Toe – this little character is reason enough to not walk about barefoot on seagrass beds. This is a mantis shrimp, aka Split Toe. These guys are seriously feisty and will not think twice before using their razor-sharp claws on you. Mantis shrimps have such a powerful punch that they can break through glass – camera lenses or fish tank glass. Despite their not so sunny disposition, they are secretive and I was very fortunate to get a photograph of this 4 inch long green individual.
A Spiky One – this fabulous fellow is a porcupine fish. They are common in our sheltered bays as well as on our coral reefs. This individual is about 12 inches long but they can grow to be close to two feet. You can just make out the quills lying flat against its body. When threatened, porcupine fish will swallow water to inflate their bodies. By doing so their quills stick straight out and they take on the appearance of a spiky balloon.
Porcupine fish are really approachable and slow moving which I guess one can be when they are covered in sharp spikes.
I look forward to sharing some of our more colorful marine life with you in my next blog. I hope where ever you are, your region is recovering from this dreadful pandemic. I am supposed to be in Vermont right now but have had to cancel my flights, obviously. We are currently in stage 3 of our 4 stage ‘Return to Normal activities.’ On July 6th, the first flight will be arriving back in Bermuda. I am still hoping to get to Vermont in August, but in the mean time will be here battling the humidity!