One month ago we left Bermuda and returned home to UK.
I have bought a new pair of wellingtons and started a new blog:
One month ago we left Bermuda and returned home to UK.
I have bought a new pair of wellingtons and started a new blog:
Now the weather has cooled down a little we have been getting out for some walks.
The most important was the PKD walk along South Shore beaches to raise money for research into Polycystic Kidneys. I hear there are 17 families with ADPKD on the island which places quite a demand on the island’s renal services. it was the first walk for PKD that I have done, but won’t be the last – they happen in UK as well. Beautiful weather, friendly company and not too long – brilliant for first walk of my walking season.
Our next walk was Coopers Island, the old NASA observation station at the end of St David’s Island. On a Sunday afternoon we found it deserted, had the beach to ourselves.
This is all for a purpose – my walking boots are coming out from under the bed back home. So I need some practice. One of my Bermuda friends who “went back home” earlier this year has begun walking around the coast of Britain – in stages over time, she’s not completely nuts – and as I may have said before in this blog, I am competitive – so if she can do it then so can I ….. (might live to regret saying that)
Last weekend we continued the East End explorations and started at Ferry Point. This is where the ferry took people from St George’s across to the mainland before the causeway was built in 1871. The gap between Ferry Point and Coney Island was bridged by the Railway Line in the 1940s but today it is rough parkland surrounding ruins of 3 forts and one impressive Martello Tower, built in 1820s by a Major Thomas Blanchard. Apparently it was restored in 2008 and for a period was open to the public – sadly no longer so.
We took the path from Whalebone Bay keeping close to the edge of the bay itself, an overgrown footpath coming off the Railway Trail.
The military cemetery to the side of the trail – 18 graves of soldiers from the Second Battalion of the Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment. That regiment was first raised in 1661 to protect Tangiers, becoming one of the senior regiments in the British Army. The regimental history doesn’t say what they were doing in Bermuda in 1860s, but sadly they fell to the outbreak of yellow fever in 1864.
The above exert from the Royal Gazette digital archives made me curious – not the commentary on the epidemic, but the sentence that follows – what, exactly, is a “Day of General Humiliation”? Google comes up with Queen Victoria calling for Wednesday 7th October 1857 to be a day of general humiliation to pray for “tranquility in India” . So it is a day of prayer, “humbling”. It seems early humiliation days were accompanied by fasting and penitence, but later ones seem to have morphed into thanksgiving type of celebrations. I cannot find out at all why they had one in Bermuda on August 30th, 1864. It was not yet the end of the epidemic, there were no wars or battles in close proximity, it is not a current national holiday – could it have been a late recognition of Emancipation Day which is more commonly held at the beginning of August?
Lovers Lake is further along the trail, a land-locked brackish pond some 400 by 200 feet. It is fed by subterranean channels from the ocean and so the level of saltiness is variable. Despite the low oxygen content of the water there is here a specific, and protected, species of Killifish found only in this pond – Fundulus relicts.
So that was last week. Tomorrow we are heading out to Dockyard, the west end of the island. I’ll let you know how we get on.
These are Caribbean reef squid, or Sepioteuthis sepioidea. The actual size of these ones is about 2cm long and 1cm wide: they are juveniles. Growing at about 0.7mm each day, they reach maturity at around 6 months. Then they tend to go offshore.
Trying to look scary
Apparently these squid are generally calm and sociable. I suppose calmness is an anthropomorphic imagination derived from the fact that they don’t always skitter off when you approach them.
Colour changes are controlled by the nervous system directly affecting chromatophores. The patterns are not random, they seem to select certain disguises depending on whether they are being friendly, aggressive or even courting.
The young squid hide just below the surface of the water, beneath vegetation or, as we found them, under buoys.
This little fish was almost invisible until it left one bouy chain in preference for the next one.
One of the islands in Harrington Sound has a controversial history:
Hall’s Island (Latitude: 32.339167 / Longitude: -64.713056) was, for a short period in the 1970s, home to an experimental group of gibbons. It is indeed a very small island at just 1.5 acres, and at the time was a mix of trees, rocky outcrops and low growing vegetation. Today it looks quite abandoned, no obvious evidence of its previous occupants.
It seems quite reasonable to rent out your island if you are lucky enough to own one, and, as recent news from Nonsuch Island shows, local scientific research is a popular and newsworthy topic. So why was this episode in Bermudian History controversial? My reading suggests that to begin with there were no issues of concern, it was reported in the local news as “research into epilepsy” and gibbons were housed for a while in the zoo so the public could see them. The project was endorsed by local charities, the Governor of Bermuda and several other Bermuda dignitaries.
However, there were concerns over the source of the animals, the nature of the experiments and the conditions on the island.
In 1965 the capture, trade and export of gibbons was banned in Thailand. There is no proof that these gibbons came from Thailand but a 1971 memo from one of the chief investigators to the staff of the Hall’s Island project told them to anticipate the arrival of 20 gibbons from Thailand. (IPPL.org). In the end only 6 came to Bermuda at that time, imported through an intermediary in Canada. At that time Canada had no legislation to control trade in rare animals, only a health permit for the transported animals was needed. It was not until 1973 that US ratified the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species. Prior to this time the method of capture of these gibbons was to kill the mother and export the infant. In a species with a family-based social structure this seems particularly cruel.
The experiments were not about epilepsy. The initial documents stated the purpose of the research was to observe gibbon behaviour in open field situations.
What was not made clear to either public or any scientific research boards, was that half of the gibbons had stimulating devices implanted into their brains and that one line of research was to “induce lasting modifications of free-ranging behaviour by means of long term stimulation of the brain”. One of the researchers subsequently wrote a book entitled “Physical Control of the mind; towards a psychocivilised society”. This book is available today, if you have $150 to spare, but the reviews include words “appalling” and “disturbing” – Delgado also experimented on humans.
The death rates among the Hall Island gibbons were high – of the first ten subjects, 2 died in the first 3 months and a further 3 in the next nine months and one was “sacrificed due to aberrant behaviour”. It was at this point that 4 “spare” gibbons were kept in outdoor cages at the Bermuda Aquarium.
In 1971 one gibbon drowned, one was found with unexplained head injuries and a third died following a bee sting. The scientists’ explanation for the high death rates was that radio frequencies for equipment at the military airport were affecting the brain stimulating equipment. However, two of the technicians involved in the studies reported that the gibbons were left alone for long periods, that the observations entailed a mere 6 days during 1970 and that they were not supplied with sufficient nutritious foods. They suggested in their report that the funds for the research were misspent on an expensive boat with water skis. Clearly boats were necessary to reach the island, but water skis?
But for the most part these concerns did not reach the public or the Bermudian government. A few years later they were well covered in newsletters of the International Primate Protection League.
Lar gibbons are apes from SW China and Thailand who live in trees. They live in families, male and female parents with young who are expected to leave home when they mature. They spend much of their daytime hours in trees and sleep in trees, choosing tall trees near cliff edges. They are territorial, with one troop holding sway over some 30-100 acres. Given that, it is hard to understand quite why such a small island was considered a suitable home for them.
Field studies of gibbons predate those of other apes, with a seminal paper written on them in 1940, by CR Carpenter, one of the Hall’s Island researchers. The 1970s were busy years for the study of animal behaviour – do you recall the book “Manwatching” by Desmond Morris? Gibbons are more closely related to man than other apes and because they are small with relatively short generational gaps then they were considered a suitable substitute for experimenting on man. But in the wild they spend most of their lives high up in tree and they eat fresh fruit – on Hall’s Island the trees were not exactly tall and the diet was Purina monkey chow.
In the end some 7 researchers have papers to their name resulting from the Hall Island research. The most prolificly published was Clarence R Carpenter, a Professor of psychology and anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and later University of Georgia. He studied primate behaviour, produced primate films and videotapes, and researched communication processes. Although he was involved in the project, at the time he did express his opinion that there was poor planning and protocols and poor record-keeping. His involvement was limited to observation of the gibbons during the Summer of 1971 and his papers concerned their patterns of walking and their daily activities.
Carpenter did not author papers on the brain stimulation experiments – that was the field of Joseph Delgado, a scientist who had previously left Yale after a dispute regarding his use of human subjects in brain stimulation experiments. It is not clear what his hypotheses were for the Hall’s Island work but he was working alongside a psychiatrist, AH Esser, whose research to that point had been in dominance and utilisation of space in psychiatric patients. Esser worked at Rockland Research Institute, the laboratories attached to Rockland State Mental Hospital, which has been described as a “therapeutic suburb”. However he claimed in the paperwork for the importation of the gibbons that he was doing research for the National Cancer Institute – no papers attributed to him have been published in that field. Esser is apparently still practising psychiatry, though a google search suggests that his license was suspended for malpractice in 2012.
The assistants, Baldwin and Teleki, who exposed the conditions on Hall’s Island, left the study group in 1972 after their request for specific experimental protocols was ignored. Both continued to study primate behaviour and contribute a substantial body of papers in that field.
The Hall’s Island project gets short paragraphs in many current texts on primate behaviour. But you might know that situation where “common papers are cited commonly” and this leads to an overestimation of their scientific worth? Well, that seems to be what occurred here – the actual results of any of the Hall’s island studies can probably be summed up:
Were any Bermudian laws breached?
When residents reported hearing screams form Hall’s Island the SPCA investigated but any outcome was not made public. It is an offence on Bermuda to ill-treat or not exercise reasonable care in looking after animals but there are no regulations concerning scientific experimental research on Bermuda that I could find, certainly none appertaining to 1970s.
The whole episode took place at a time when, in US, there was a post-war federal funding commitment to civilian science. The field of psychiatry was looking for means of behavioural control at a time when locking people away in asylums was facing heavy criticism. Respected scientists were studying primate behaviour and the papers published in this area were increasing exponentially. It was an expanding field, scientists wanted to do research on the edges of conventional science and in Harrington Sound, on Bermuda there was an island for rent. It was opportunistic, if retrospectively controversial.
This is my opinion, based on just two years of snorkelling on the island. Before I came out here I had never snorkelled and the first time I tried I was a panicky-pink-puffing flounder barely able to keep my head down for thirty seconds. I am glad I persevered, however and now, if I were in a position to write a CV, snorkelling would make the “Interests and Activities” section!
As with any hobby I undertake, I enjoy buying the kit – yes, some hobbies never progress beyond this stage. I began with a combination mask-snorkel-flipper pack acquired for what then seemed an extortionate price from a local DIY-type store. I still have that set but more as an emergency or visitor option.
I have learned a few things:
The Easybreath: We bought two of these just last week, a cross between the Hannibal Lecter and Darth Vader, I anticipate ridicule when I venture beyond the confines of Harrington Sound. I would award them 4/5 stars – brilliant for wide angle of view, ability to breathe normally through nose, no fogging, no water on face, but less good for going down in the water, and build quality (one of ours has a sticky float ball and the other seems to have lost its float ball altogether, probably when I put it together). On balance I am continuing to use this as my preferred snorkel, even without the float ball the top acts as a splash guard, but I may not use it when out in the waves.
Dry snorkels: This is one of the better websites when it comes to explaining the differences between their models. They are also a tad more expensive. The top ultra dry model is my second favourite snorkel, based on function, not just because it came in pink, honest!
Choosing a snorkel depends on whether you want to keep to the surface or dive down, how much luggage space you have, and budget. When I started to learn the clarinet in school I was given a cheap instrument of dubious quality and because it was so hard to get a decent sound I never ever enjoyed myself – sometimes beginners need the better kit or they never progress any further.
My first snorkel experience was at Tobacco Bay. This is on the Eastern end, St George’s island, and presents a sheltered gently sloping sandy cove surrounded by photogenic rocks. It is pretty much perfect for snorkelling and we have taken our visitors here for snorkel training sessions.
Even here however, on a windy day the sea can be choppy and the sea floor drops away quite dramatically once outside the shelter of the closest rocks.
Perhaps my favourite coastal snorkel site is Whalebone Bay, further to the western end of St George’s island. You can pretty much guarantee privacy here as it seems even the locals don’t come here that often. Partially protected by a large rocky formation that sits in the mouth of the bay, there are superb examples of sea fans here. You might be put off by initial appearances – the beach is small with slippery rocks as the shallow water extends for some 30 feet, but walk carefully over this part and the rewards are quickly apparent, a variety of fish without too much swell from the sea. But there are no facilities, toilets having blown down in the hurricane – we used the old fashioned “change under a towel” method.
Shelly Bay is listed on tourist sites as suitable for children and swimming as it is shallow for a long way out. The snorkelling her is best along the sides of the bay and just around the corner at the right hand end. Facilities are going to be redeveloped so it might become more popular for novice snorkellers . http://bm.geoview.info/shelly_bay,3573039
Church Bay is along the south shore and every guide book describes it as “the” place to go for snorkelling. So we did … and rather quickly came back again. Yes there is good snorkelling here, but also waves and personally I was swept about too much to be able to fix on any fish, even if I had been confident that I wouldn’t become the next Bermuda shipwreck all by myself. The advantages of the south shore are the proximity of the reef and sandy beaches. I was too inexperienced to get to an enjoyment stage here, so maybe this is one I will report back on after another year of snorkelling. http://www.bermuda4u.com/sights/church-bay/
The East end snorkel beach is right at dockyard. I cannot review it as I have only played mini-golf here, not snorkelled. It does however get good reviews on Trip Advisor and if you are coming off a cruise ship or staying in the western end it is probably worth a look. http://www.snorkelparkbeach.com/about-us/beach-and-snorkeling.html
Now you are kitted up and in the right place, what can you expect to see?
Fish – doh!
The sergeant major : – these are my favourite fish and are”friendly” in that they will come close and appear inquisitive but I have been “nipped” on a few occasions when they seem unable to distinguish me from food (a mighty large meal). The bite doesn’t hurt, it is more of a surprise.
Bermuda bream are the most common silvery fish around with distinctive black dots just in front of the tail.
Blue stripe grunts from 3 to 30 inches; the grunt can actually be heard when they grind their pharyngeal teeth together and the sound is amplified by the swim bladder.
French grunts, more yellow stripes with some at an angle rather than just horizontal, found frequently alongside the blue-striped grunts
Some fish I have seen in the aquarium but am not sure if I have actually seen them in the wild and these include the “Doctor fish”
The Latin name Acanthurus chirurgus, means thorny tailed surgeon!
If you snorkel late in the day you might see grey snapper fish. Young ones may have a pigmented stripe diagonally across the eye and i was told on the glass bottom boat cruise that this meant they were “in season” or fertile, but a google search suggests that it merely indicates a juvenile fish.
Parrot fish are for me the most exciting to see, perhaps because they are so large and come into shallow waters. In Harrington Sound we have seen both blue parrot fish and rainbow parrot fish, mostly small ones, for the larger ones you need to go to the outer coastline, Tobacco Bay and Whalebone Bay.
Each time I go out I see something different – last week we came across two large Spotted Sea Hares
And yesterday we found what we think was a File fish – warning: post-snorkel fish identification can be a source of spousal disagreement – anyhow, we didn’t have the camera with us so that is one that got away.
Beware the Fire Sponge: It really really hurst when you touch this. But it does warn you – it is bright red after all.
Fire Coral also hurts lots and is more deviously coloured in an innocent yellow, but not one to get up close with!
Bermuda snorkelling is not the same as Caribbean or Pacific islands – the fish may be less brightly coloured and the coral more limited in species, but I would recommend it just for the relaxation element. Half an hour floating in warm water listening to bubbles and water while watching fish – in a spa they would charge the earth for this, and they probably aren’t real fish.
Phaethon lepturus catesbyi
Long tails are everywhere this month and my daughter has taken some pretty amazing photos so it seemed apposite to write a post about them.
The full latin name is Phaethon lepturus catesbyi
Phaethon was the son of the Helios and Klimene who kept pestering his father to be allowed to drive the chariot of the sun, but when the sun god finally gave in predictably the young demigod lost control of the vehicle and thus set fire to the plains of Africa – there is a lesson there somewhere, one I certainly took a long time to learn (penknife to 10 year old son? hamsters as pets?) but at least my mistakes didn’t set the earth on fire.
lepturus, although a Latin word here, comes from the Greek meaning “thin tail”
Mark Catesby was an English naturalist who, in 1722, travelled to Virginia and the Caribbean to study the wild life. He was sponsored by the Royal Society of London and paid an annual salary of £20, which was pretty generous in those days especially as he stayed with his sister who lived in Virginia so didn’t have to fund his own board and lodging. He was one of the first academics to describe bird migration and in 1747 he published a book “Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahamas” in which appears the following plate of a long tail:
The original plates and preparatory drawings are apparently held in Windsor Castle Library.
The common name for them is “white-tailed tropic bird” and they are different from but related to the red-tailed and red-billed versions of the tropic bird. Some sources claim there are just three species but a recent survey in Australia suggests some inter-species breeding and birds with mixed features.
You can, I presume, work out how to recognise them – they have long tails! These are two very long feathers trailing out behind the bird, used in the aerial courtship displays. Juvenile birds don’t have them, but after two years at sea they return to their breeding place with impressive long tails of their own.
The nests are holes in the cliffs, some pretty close to the ground or sea level and the egg is laid on bare ground, the parent birds don’t actually make a nest as such. The single egg, a beige colour with purplish and reddish blotches, is incubated by either parent for 40-42 days and hatches in June or July. Juveniles have yellow bills and less distinct black markings and they are fed, again by both parents, on baby squid and small fish. I actually saw 5 tiny baby squid a week ago when snorkelling and was looking for them yesterday but now I realise they have probably been eaten as we have several pairs of nesting long tails on the islands in Harrington Sound.
After around 65 days the young bird will fledge, taking off from the rock face it is a “fly or float” experience – most succeed but every year the local zoo takes in some birds who have failed to reach take-off velocity, returning them to the wild once they have learned the basics. Then they don’t return for the next two years, they fly for the most part all the time and even sleep on the wing.
The markings include a black surround to the eyes which is nature’s equivalent to sunglasses, reducing the glare an reflection from the water so they can see the fish more easily. They do plunge into the surface waters to catch fish but often pick out small fish as they break the surface of the water – flying fish.
The wings from the top have a black V-shaped marking and the wing tips are also black.
The pictures I have are all probably adult birds since they have reddish beaks and the youngsters have yellow beaks.
Historically they were named the “Bosun bird” because their call is akin to the bosun’s whistle. Wikipedia describes the call: keee-keee-krrrt-krrt-krrt . I hope you got that – don’t get the spelling wrong the extra r in the third word is most important! I can hear them out there this morning, but haven’t yet worked out how to attach a sound recording to the blog.
Sadly they are threatened by erosion of rocks, predators such as rats and cats, flooding and building works. Although protected in Bermuda by the Protection of Birds Act 1975, I am not convinced the act is enforced with any regularity on the island. There could be a conflict of interests – once the unofficial bird of Bermuda, the longtail was ousted from this distinction by the cahow in 2003 and the newer igloos are apparently designed to favour cahows and prevent long tails from nesting in them. Igloos are man-made nesting boxes that one can install on your coastal property. Our landlord has made special holes in the rock walls alongside the dock and slipway and although I don’t think there are any nesting this year we do try to keep away from them when we are on the water. Personally I think the longtails are prettier birds than the cahows.
There is an area along North Shore called “Crawl” and I have learned that it is nothing to do with the fact that it is a hill on a bend that means the traffic crawls along slowly. It is in fact due to the little bay shown above: the crawl.
A crawl is a staked or penned-in area for holding fish.
The etymology is debatable, some sources claiming an origin in Dutch “kraal” used in South Africa in the early 1800s, usually referring to a cattle enclosure. Other dictionaries state it comes from the North American “corral”, again a cattle pen but originating from the Latin “currare” meaning to run. An alternative Latin origin would be “currale” which is apparently an enclosure for vehicles (did the ancient Latin-speaking folks have many vehicles?)
The Urban Dictionary informs that a CRAWL is the noun for a large unified travelling group of Zombies – somehow I don’t think that was what led to the use in Bermuda, not met any Zombies here, guess they find getting a work permit quite hard.
More likely is that the term was imported from Jamaica and the West Indies where a crawl was the name of a hog pen, used in Jamaica from 1660 onwards. A hog crawl was a large circular area with a hut in the centre and at night the crawl-keeper would call the hogs into the central area with a conch (yes, really) and they reportedly spent the night huddled together. The Dictionary of Jamaican English notes that it can also refer to a staked enclosure in the sea: a CRAWL. In this case I suppose the fish are first caught and then released into the crawl until wanted for the table, given there were no refrigerators.
In his memorials Governor Lefroy said that Crawl was the name of a large natural lagoon in Hamilton Parish and that it was thus named from as early as 1623. Apparently smaller enclosures locally known as “fishponds” were cut into the coastline.
The lagoon above was pointed out to me this morning by a friend (as she dragged me along the Railway Trail for a brisk morning walk – not a crawl, please note). It doesn’t fit with my imagination of Lefroy’s “large natural lagoon” so I remain a little sceptical as to this being the original crawl. Admittedly it does have closeby a large board saying “Crawl Park”.
So, this afternoon as you crawl up along North Shore Road in the rush hour traffic you may take a left turn just opposite the gas station (gas as in petrol) and a short walk along the grassy track to the Crawl.
Devon, Our New Home
Rhyming off physiology facts for everyone
Smart and surprising
The Future Lies In The Past
Decades of her words.
Natural England & the Woodland Trust: Working together on Dartmoor
Tales about a creative life on Dartmoor
Doodles of a distracted historian