Welcome to Bermuda Shorts. It’s always interesting and enlightening to hear about and see images of wildlife that inhabits foreign lands. I’m delighted to be able to include these short blogs from countries very different to our own. This first is from Jessica Riederer who I had the pleasure of meeting when she worked as a seasonal education officer for Norfolk Wildlife Trust. I’ll let Jessica introduce herself…..
Hi, I’m Jessica. I was born and raised in Bermuda, but having grown up on a small island, my desire to travel and experience vast open wild areas has led me to spend a lot of time living in and working overseas. Over the past 20 years I have worked as an environmental educator, classroom teacher, animal behaviourist, photographer, author and public presenter on wildlife and conservation projects.
Here in Bermuda, I recently published two books, BERMUDA Wildlife and Landscape Images, and WILD in Bermuda and Beyond – ON LAND. I am currently working on the second Wild in Bermuda book that will focus on life in our Ocean. My mission as a photographer and an author is to inspire awe and appreciation for our magnificent planet and bring awareness to all of the fascinating and diverse creatures we share our beautiful world with.
I am currently living in Southampton, Bermuda where, when I am not working on my book, I spend a lot of time tending to my beautiful gardens as well as my many loved pets. On Saturday May 2nd, we ended our four weeks of ‘Stay in Place’ due to this horrible Corvid 19. Normally I would have been out with my camera photographing wildlife when weather and time permitted, but obviously that has not been the case.
Photographing wildlife here in Bermuda has as many challenges as it would any where else on our planet, but my main challenge is that we have very few terrestrial native species. There is plenty of information available on how wildlife ended up in Bermuda, but once settlers arrived, they began to do what we humans do all too well. Basically, they began to mess things up. The introduction of species that do not belong here is the number one challenge facing most of our native and certainly our endemic wildlife.
Wild In Bermuda
If you were to venture far out into the North Atlantic Ocean, 560 nautical miles from the Outer Banks of North Carolina, you would find yourself on a beautiful group of islands that are like no other islands on our planet. Discovered in the early 1500’s and shortly after named the Isle of Devils by early explorers who had to brave its treacherous and extensive reef line, Bermuda is home to more than 65,000 islanders and around 1,600 resident species of plants and animals.
Despite being quite far away from the nearest landmass, animals managed to reach Bermuda before humans discovered it. They flew, drifted on Ocean currents and blew in with lashing hurricane winds. After Bermuda was settled, animals were brought here for various reasons. However they arrived, Bermuda’s wildlife has had to adapt to the extreme conditions associated with island life. Hight humidity and temperatures, strong seasonal winds and very little fresh standing water are a just a few of the ongoing challenges our wildlife faces.
May in Bermuda
As I write this, rain is falling hard and the outside temperature is 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of Bermuda’s wildlife, whether it belongs here or not, are active through out the year. Here are a few common species I encountered in my gardens today.
These tiny frogs are whistling tree frogs (Eleutherodactylus johnstonni). This is our only species of frog believe it or not. Despite being introduced by humans, our tree frogs have not caused any problems here and are a much-loved little amphibian. Whilst most species of frogs depend on fresh water to reproduce, whistling tree frogs do not need water, which is a good thing because standing bodies of fresh water in Bermuda are scarce. They instead lay their eggs in moist places such as within the soil of a flower pot or under a rotting log.
Generally nocturnal and only about the size of my thumb nail, they can be hard to find during the day. On warm rainy days and nights, you will definitely hear them though. Their trills fill our summer air. I absolutely love the sound but I’m sure many tourists might have a different opinion!
In the photograph above, a newly hatched whistling tree frog sits on my thumb nail. When eggs are hatching, hundreds of these tiny hoppers can be found in my gardens.
This handsome boy is a Jamaican anole. This particular lizard is Jake. Jake has been living in our gardens for eight years now. He spends most of his time on the tree outside of my kitchen window catching flies trying to get into my kitchen.
Jamaican anoles were brought to Bermuda in the early 1900’s to kill the fruit flies that were destroying settlers’ crops. Like the tree frogs, they have become naturalized.
It is never a good idea to bring an animal into a country or even habitat where it does not belong, and our endemic species have suffered enormously because of the introduction of species that have now become invasive. Jamiacan anoles fortunately have not caused too many problems but in some areas are competing for resources with our endemic skink.
Here is another species of lizard regularly seen in my gardens. This is the Warwick Lizard or Antiguan anole (Anolis Leachii), also introduced by humans. This is Bermuda’s largest lizard, but they are very shy in nature.
In this image, this large male has grabbed a Gulf fritillary caterpillar from my passion fruit vine. Unfortunately for the lizard, the passionflower makes the caterpillars toxic which means they probably do not taste very good. After a few minutes of trying, the lizard opened its mouth and let the caterpillar fall to the ground.
Bermuda is home to seven species of lizard, but only one of them, the Bermuda Rock Skink, is endemic. All of the others were introduced. Below are three more introduced lizards found in Bermuda. From left to right, the Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia) Cuban anole (Anolis sagrei), and Somerset’s lizard (Anolis extremus).
Birds in Bermuda
Around 200 species of birds end up in Bermuda every year. Some fly across the great Atlantic Ocean on purpose on their migration routes and others get caught up in strong winds and end up here by mistake. Most of our migrants and vagrants originated in the United States, but some have journeyed from further away than that.
Even though we get so many visitors (more than 400 species have been recorded here) we only have 22 resident bird species.
Our resident birds are:
Eastern bluebird Northern Cardinal Grey catbird
House sparrow European starling Gold finch
Great kiskadee Ground dove Mourning dove
Rock dove White eyed vireo Yellow-crowned night heron
Green heron American crow Barn owl
Mallard American coot Common gallinule
Pied-billed grebe Common tern Bermuda petrel (cahow)
White tailed tropic bird (Longtail)
Many of the birds listed above were introduced by humans. They have become invasive and our native birds are suffering because of lack of resources. House sparrows particularly are a complete nuisance. They compete with our native Eastern bluebirds for nesting areas and food and will kill parent bluebirds and chicks to steal their nesting boxes. Bluebirds are part of our island’s history. No one is really sure how long they have lived in Bermuda, but we know they arrived at least 400 years ago. Of course, 400 years ago, Bermuda would have looked a lot different than it does today. Most of the islands would have been covered in beautiful cedar forests. The blue birds and many other species of animals depended on these forests for their survival. They built their nests in cedar tree hollows and ate the cedar berries. When our beautiful cedar forests started to die off because of the introduction of a mite, our bluebirds started to disappear too.
Today in Bermuda, our Eastern bluebird population is a fraction of what it used to be. The most bluebirds I have seen at a bird bath are 5. Apparently, fifty years ago, it was common to see 40 bluebirds sharing one bird bath.
Despite the many challenges they face, mainly loss of habitat and nesting areas, pesticides that kill their prey, and the introduced chicken mite, somehow Bermuda’s bluebirds manage to hang on to existence. Today they are completely dependent om nest boxes erected by humans for their survival. Because there are very few old cedar trees left standing in Bermuda, there are very few natural nesting hollows for bluebirds.
Migrants and Vagrants
I mentioned earlier that we have had more than 400 species of birds make it to Bermuda. Here are some of our visitors I have photographed over the years. It may be hard to believe, but we have even had snowy owls turn up here. Poor things may see our white washed roofs when they are flying in. When they land and realize there is no snow to be found and how hot it is, I am sure they do not stick around for long.
As we head towards late spring, 137 species of birds have already been recorded in Bermuda so far. These can be viewed here
Migrations of a different Sort
Whilst we were required to stay home during March and April, another migration was taking place. During these months around 10,000 humpback whales pass very close to Bermuda. When weather permits, whale watching trips operate daily (unless there is a pandemic). Even though whales can be seen passing along our south shore coast from the land, the opportunity to experience these beauties from a boat is definitely one of my favorite wildlife experiences. Bermuda lies halfway between humpback whales breeding grounds in the Caribbean and their feeding grounds in the North Atlantic. Fortunately, before our lockdown began, I was lucky enough to get on a boat with my friends and get out on the Ocean for some humpback whale action.
Even though we are not yet into June, our days are getting hotter and hotter and our humidity is through the roof. I have not been out with my camera much this month as I have been gardening heaps. I am currently working on my third book, WILD in Bermuda’s Ocean, so most of my photography adventures take place under the Ocean’s surface where it is a lot cooler.
In my next post I will introduce you to more of Bermuda’s terrestrial wildlife and some marine wildlife too.