Category Archives: Greenery

Nature, Science, Philosophy

The new adventures of KT

One month ago we left Bermuda and returned home to UK.

I have bought a new pair of wellingtons and started a new blog: 



Walking Bermuda

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.

Bermuda PKD Walk 2015

Bermuda PKD Walk 2015

Halfway point for PKD walk

Halfway point for PKD walk

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.

A Sailing Boat on a reach around the end of the island

A Sailing Boat on a reach around the end of the island


Looking back towards St David’s from Coopers Island

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.


Despite having fallen in the hurricane, the casuarina tree stubbornly grows in a sideways reorientation


Military cemetery for the Queen’s Royals, 1864

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.

Review of 1864 from The Royal Gazette - paragraph about yellow fever

Review of 1864 from The Royal Gazette – paragraph about yellow fever

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?


That yellow thing on the rocks looks rather like a Minion


Lovers Lake

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.  


Railway Trail


The lime kiln is very overgrown


Please can someone name this flower? A bit like buttercup?


In case you cannot recall your O level chemistry

A view of Whalebone Bay as we walk back to the car.

A view of Whalebone Bay as we walk back to the car.

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.

Five little squid

I think they have seen me

I think they have seen me

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.

Pretend to be big

Trying to look scary

Five little squid

Five little squid

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.

Looking for a hiding place

Looking for a hiding place

The young squid hide just below the surface of the water, beneath vegetation or, as we found them, under buoys.

Slender file fish

Slender file fish

This little fish was almost invisible until it left one bouy chain in preference for the next one.

Slender file fish

Slender file fish

Monkey island of Bermuda

The Island

One of the islands in Harrington Sound has a controversial history:

Harrington Sound

Harrington Sound

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.

Hall's Island, Harrington Sound, Bermuda

Hall’s Island, Harrington Sound, Bermuda

The controversies

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. ( 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.

Proposed research title

Proposed research title

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.

Extract from Royal Gazette

Extract from Royal Gazette

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.

One of the Lar gibbons pictured on Hall's Island by Esser, 1971

One of the Lar gibbons pictured on Hall’s Island by Esser, 1971

The Gibbons

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.

Gibbons on the island, 1973

Gibbons on the island, 1973


Image from CR Carpenter’s short film on Gibbon Behaviour, 1973

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.

Gibbons at play, Carpenter 1973

Gibbons at play, Carpenter 1973

The Investigators

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 Studies

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:

  • the gibbons exhibited patterns of semi-vertical trunk orientation in walking and swinging – but without many trees to climb on the island then they really didn’t have much choice
  • play occupied one third of the gibbon waking day
  • they demonstrated complex dominance relationships
  • they may have killed a chicken (one was found with a broken neck – but locals also had access to the island so draw your own conclusions here)
  • one was observed using a leaf to dip for water from a puddle
  • one died of the gibbon-ape-leukaemia-virus, apparently leukaemia is more common in captive gibbons

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.

Snorkelling Bermuda

Snorkel Bermuda

Sergeant Major

Sergeant Major

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!

Which Kit

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:

  • Snorkels come in so many varieties, but I prefer a “dry” type with a valve or ball of some sort at the top end to prevent water getting down the tube. I do have one with just a splash guard, but the main reason it is still in use is for the comfort of the mouthpiece, not the keep-water-out facet.
  • The purge valve at the bottom is usually the first feature to stop working – this is where I wished I had rinsed the snorkels after use EVERY time.
  • Mouth pieces come in different shapes and sizes and it is only after half an hour or so you know if you like it – one I have has a large effective shield that sits in front of the teeth but my jaw aches after using it, I think because the grips that go between the upper and lower teeth are just too big.
  • My current favourite snorkel/mask is the Easy breathe, but even this is not perfect (see below).
Practice with Easybreathe mask

Practice with Easybreathe mask

  • The mask needs to fit well under the nose, if too long for your philtrum (the part between nose and lip) then the mask allows water in when you wiggle your nose. Think you won’t wiggle your nose? Well I did warn you.
  • See-through for me is better than black, but this is personal (black ones remind me of the anaesthetics I had as a child to remove teeth), black ones are said to reduce the glare of the water and they often are made of softer silicone.
  • Flippers mean you can cover longer distances but need practice, and my husband keeps telling me I am not using them correctly!

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.

Easybreathe in action

Easybreathe in action

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.

Which Place

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.

Tobacco Bay

Tobacco Bay

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.,3572963

Whalebone Bay

Whalebone Bay

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 .,3573039

Shelly Bay

Shelly Bay

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.

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.
Which Fish

Now you are kitted up and in the right place, what can you expect to see?
Fish – doh!



A comprehensive list can be found at
But here is a personal tally:

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

Squirrel Fish 

 Honeycomb cowfish

Cow fish

Cow fish


Bermuda chub
Four eye butterfly fish

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.


Blue stripe grunt

And Non-fish

Beware the Fire Sponge:  It really really hurst when you touch this. But it does warn you – it is bright red after all.

Fire sponge, bottom left

Fire sponge, bottom left

Fire Coral also hurts lots and is more deviously coloured in an innocent yellow, but not one to get up close with!

Giant anemone

Shallow water starlet coral,

Ubiquitous are petticoat algae, turtle grass and the merman’s shaving brush. 

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

Bermuda Longtail  (image: HCL)

Bermuda Longtail
(image: HCL)

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:

Catesby's engraving of a Longtail bird (image from eBay, source unknown)

Catesby’s engraving of a Longtail bird (image from eBay, source unknown)

The original plates and preparatory drawings are apparently held in Windsor Castle Library.

Catesby's description of a long tail tropic bird

Catesby’s description of a long tail tropic bird

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.

Longtail at Horseshoe Bay (image: HCL)

Longtail at Horseshoe Bay (image: HCL)

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.

A long tail bird in a nest (image:HCL)

A long tail bird in a nest (image:HCL)

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.

Taking flight (image:HCL)

Taking flight (image:HCL)

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.

Bermuda Longtail (image:HCL)

Bermuda Longtail (image:HCL)

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.

This one took me by surprise (image:HCL)

This one took me by surprise (image:HCL)




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.

Where have all the rabbits gone?

You might think that a news article about a “lost bunny” on Easter Sunday so close to April 1st is a wind-up but it did actually happen and there was a happy ending. It left me wondering:

Why are there no wild rabbits on the island?

An article from “Guinea Pig Today” from 2012 carries the headline

“Feral guinea pigs, rabbits are destroying Bermuda’s ecosystem”

In case you are wondering, no I don’t usually read that website, it came up on a search for “Bermuda rabbits”. I have to say, in my explorations I have not once seen either feral rabbits or guineapigs.

The second link on my search led me to a Facebook page for Bermuda Rabbit Society and, as you can imagine, many cute photos. But I am no closer to discovering why there are no wild rabbits here.

A book entitled “The Naturalist in Bermuda” published in 1859 infers the presence of rabbits on at least one of the islands in the Great Sound:

Extract from The Naturalist on Bermuda, 1859

Extract from The Naturalist on Bermuda, 1859

And in Harrington Sound, our local patch of water, there is indeed an island called Rabbit Island.

We live alongside Green Bay near the bottom left of the map, Rabbit island is the first of the larger islands as you sail or kayak across to the far end of the sound.

We live alongside Green Bay near the bottom left of the map, Rabbit island is the first of the larger islands as you sail or kayak across to the far end of the sound.

Lucy Hollis has blogged a photo of Rabbit Island in 2008
It looks much more overgrown now. We can kayak across there in warmer weather so I will take a camera with me on my next expedition.  The website Bermuda-online claims there are wild rabbits on that island, but I am not convinced – it is pretty rocky and there is no fresh water source. It belongs to the National Trust and is designated a nature reserve so no landing on the island to prove this one way or the other.

If there are wild rabbits then they would have arrived by ship, the same way the rats, hogs and chickens came across. Hogs of course are no longer roaming free, the early settlers ate them. Chickens are everywhere, I guess nobody eats them, they cross the roads at random – don’t ask me why. And my recent experiment at bird-feeding demonstrated the presence of rats, well fed ones. Maybe ships didn’t carry rabbits, I suppose they supply little on the way of meat or tradeable value.

Without foxes, there are no natural predators here to threaten wild rabbits so I would assume if they did exist then there would be an abundance of them. Bermuda grass is apparently a good food for a rabbit and we have plenty of that all over the place:

Bermuda grass

Bermuda grass


Our own Bermuda grass. The island you can see here is called Redshank Island. Rather like Rabbit Island without rabbits, it does not appear to be home to any redshanks

Any other results from my search “Bermuda rabbits” seem to be for boats or grass suppliers. One strange link goes to an online auction sale for a shirt  with a print described as a Bermuda rabbit, but to me it looks like a frog – maybe I am missing some information here!  So I am none the wiser about wild or feral rabbits on Bermuda and leave the question open, in a slightly altered form, because one or two sites I usually trust for reliable information imply their existence:

Where are the wild rabbits on Bermuda?

One Cahow and lots of not-cahows

Yesterday morning over breakfast I came across the live webcam feed from the Cahow nest on Nonsuch Island.  A comment beneath said that “anytime soon” a chick was expected to hatch.  So for half an hour or so I watched the non-moving-is-it-really-live image and finally gave up to busy myself with housework (the cleaner is due this week).  Of course I missed it, the actual birth, as I learned this morning when I tuned in.  It isn’t the first birth I have missed – at medical school in year 1 we were assigned a pregnant mother with the expectation we would be around for the delivery and subsequent parenting challenges, but my “mother” must have changed her mind about the whole viewing idea, before she met me I hasten to add, and I similarly learned of the new arrival one day too late.  By the end of med school I had seen enough deliveries to be able to hold back the tears, at least to see enough to be able to catch the baby, but I have never seen a Cahow chick hatch and will now probably have to wait until next year. Actually I have never seen a Cahow – thought I did once when a greyish plumpish bird flew across Harrington Sound but then I learned that the adult birds are nocturnal so I had probably just seen a juvenile tern.

Cahow: Image from Bermuda Conservation (creative commons licence)

Cahow: Image from Bermuda Conservation (creative commons licence)

The Cahow is much talked about in local conservation groups, rediscovered sometime in the 1950s after presumed extinction it is now protected to the extent it has its own island where people rarely tread.  According to history when the first people found themselves on Bermuda in 1609 the Cahow was so plentiful as to provide regular suppers for months:

A kinde of webbe-footed Fowle there is, of the bignesse of an English greene Plover, or Sea-Meawe, which all the Summer we saw not, and in the darkest nights of November and December (for in the night they onely feed) they would come forth, but not flye farre from home, and hovering in the ayre, and over the Sea, made a strange hollow and harsh howling. They call it of the cry which it maketh, a Cohow.

The quote comes from William Strachey’s account of the shipwreck in 1609. In 1901 a professor from Yale University questioned the veracity of the species, suggesting a petrel doesn’t actually taste very nice.  David Wingate has written more comprehensively about the cahow and its rediscovery, his knowledge based on breeding and habits of the bird rather than taste!

Being so very short sighted I was never attracted to bird watching – they are mainly black specks in the sky looking as far as I can tell exactly like a small child’s depiction of a bird, a slightly curved v-shape.  But when we sit on our dock in the late afternoon, perhaps feeding the fish, the birds have taken to arriving in hopeful swoops, close enough that even I can see some detail.

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Rather like the flowers in the previous post, I need some help in identifying them.  I do know that none of them are Cahows!

Photos by HCL, taken on a rather grey day over Harrington Sound.

Botanical Gardens

Visitor Centre

Visitor Centre

Spring 2015.


A vegetable patch – Bermuda onions on the left.




I can identify the bee, but am not confident in naming the flower – answers on a postcard please.


Red Cardinal


Auditioning for the role of Jane?


Hole in the tree

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The gardens are open every day and there is no charge.

They appear to have a Facebook page, but no website of their own, guess they employ gardeners and not computer geeks.  I did find the gardens listed on a US website, but am uncertain about their pictures – the gardens are just not this close to the sea.  Anyhow, definitely worth a visit.

All images from HCL with permission.

Feed the birds ….

….It costs more than tuppence

Hungry Sparrow

Hungry Sparrow

My mother had a bird table outside her living room window, which given that she kept cats as well seemed a little harsh, but despite the cats her bird table was visited by hundreds of birds. I used to be vaguely interested when I visited, but never to the extent of setting up a bird table of my own. Yes we had one in the garden, what family with young children doesn’t at some point, but it was more of a support for the creeping bindweed than hungry birds. But it seems I have reached that age – I have developed an interest in feeding the birds. And I have a garden that is perfect for doing this.



On your first visit to Bermuda you might be forgiven for thinking the only bird around is a Kiskadee. They are noisy. Not endemic to the island, they were brought across from Trinidad in 1957 to control the anolis lizard (which itself was imported to control a fruit parasite). For the most part Kiskadees ignored the lizards and preferred insects and berries both plentiful so now we have lots of lizards and lots of Kiskadees. They don’t need any help from me to find food.

Non-lizard-eating kiskadee

Non-lizard-eating kiskadee

What we do have in Bermuda are sparrows – the same ones you saw when growing up but not now so common in UK. I was going to insist that the sparrows we have here are Old World Sparrows, not the American Tree Sparrow, but having looked at various images on the web I am not so certain about this – maybe one of my friends from the Bermuda Audubon Society will put me right.

Male Northern Cardinal At Feeder

Image from wikipedia, but if you come back to my blog later in the year maybe i will have one of my own!

But the bird I am trying to attract to my feeder is a Red Cardinal. I know he is close by, my neighbour ( the lemon-drizzle-cake-one) has him calling at her table and I am determined to get him to come round the corner.

So I set off to a garden centre to find a bird feeder. Actually I set off to first find a garden centre. To save you the petrol costs of a round-the-island drive, it is actually just off the roundabout in Paget, the one where Johnny Barnes greets the morning traffic. Don’t know why I hadn’t noticed it before, right opposite the National Trust offices at Waterville.

Here I made two mistakes: firstly I bought cheap seed feeders and secondly I baulked at paying $30 for a large tub of bird seed.

The tub would have been a good idea – bird seed is around $5 per litre and the tub was at least 10 litres, bargain. But I didn’t know that then. A stubborn streak prevented me from returning later so I ended up at another store with 5 litres of proper bird seed, 5 litres of scratch mix and another 5 litres of sunflower seed at the grand total of $54 (Bermuda cost of living is high, no less so for the birds). Plus of course the large plastic box with lid.

The lesson of the cheap feeders was short and brutal – first one disappeared overnight, then the second on the next night. Note, “disappeared”, not “fell off the hook” or “broke”, plain disappeared. Clearly I needed either a substantial feeder on a big hook or a roll of duct tape – I now have both. I have absolutely no idea what can have carried off my cheap feeders, cat? cockroach? heron?

The Red Cardinal comes from Virginia, likely deliberately introduced in the late 17th century, not this time to eat lizards, but probably as a caged bird, to look pretty. They certainly are very pretty. It is about the season for them to be mating and then they will build messy nests, lay brown mottled eggs and be conscientious parents with the young hatching in April. This from the “Guide to the Birds of Bermuda” by Eric Amos, a 1990 copy of which I found in the library. He begins with a statement that ornithology began in the mid 1800s when military men exchanged their shotguns for binoculars.

Apart from sparrows and maybe a cardinal I can expect a few starlings, mourning doves (a posh name for a small pigeon) and maybe a grey catbird that reportedly has a “long rambling introspective song” (no idea). It is unlikely that I will see the other birds – bluebirds and vireos – both populations declined with the loss of cedar trees in the mid 20th century.

Redshank island  - at the bottom of the garden :)

Redshank island – at the bottom of the garden 🙂

We are fortunate to have a waterfront garden onto Harrington Sound and from the dock if I sit quietly I can see an assortment of water birds – herons, egrets and terns in the main, but in the summer there are white-tailed tropic birds or long tails – it seems the whole neighbourhood has created nesting holes for them and last year at least two pairs were successful in breeding. I don’t need to feed these birds but if I take some bread down for the fish the birds soon appear.

So how am I getting on with my bird feeding project?

Non-Disappearing bird feeder

Non-Disappearing bird feeder

No birds?
While I can watch them from the safety of the sofa, they won’t pose for photographs!

OK, it may be wishful to place it so close to the house, but we shall see....

OK, it may be wishful to place it so close to the house, but we shall see….

But look what they have done to my table – that is for my coffee, not random bird seed, what a mess!

Bird table?

Bird table?


The greening-up post hurricane has been astounding, we now have hibiscus flowers in the hedge again and it is actually green enough to be called a hedge.

What is less easy to see however is the damage along the Bermuda coast from the recent tropical storms. After the previous huge hurricane, Fabian, a lot of sediment was lost from the shores, seen on satellite images as a bright plume dragged out off the south-west into the Atlantic. But Bermuda is not all pink sand – in fact only 6% can be called beach, mostly along the South Shore. The rest is rocky shore, with a few cliffs and, hidden around a few corners, some mangrove swamps.  I’m not talking acres of unnavigable jungle as you will recall from films (e.g. Black Water, a 2007 horror movie) , but square meters of important habitat along Bermuda’s coastline.

Bermudian Mangrove Swamp

Bermudian Mangrove Swamp


Mangroves are usually associated with tropical countries – they are halophytes, salt-tolerant species of tropical trees. Those on Bermuda are the most northerly mangrove forests in the Atlantic – so pretty unique. (My first draft had this as the northernmost in the world but then I learned that some in Japan reach 35 degrees North while Bermuda is at 32 degrees North! ) The largest area of mangrove swamp is at Hungry Bay, but that has been affected like the other 30 smaller areas on the island by rising sea level and human impact as well as hurricanes.

The bigger mangroves are Black Mangroves, Avicennia germinans, trees of up to 10m in height, with characteristic pneumatophores growing upwards out of the water. The Red Mangroves, Rhizophora mangle, called because of the red wood underneath the bark, have lots of prop roots growing downwards from the branches and trunk. Both are adapted to the salt water – red mangrove roots filter it out and then store what they don’t use in the leaves which then fall off, while the black mangrove excretes salt onto the leaves. The seeds on the red mangrove are clever, they have pendulum-like weights and after they have germinated, still on the mother plant, they are released and hopefully the weighted pod will plummet into the boggy ground and take hold.  Black mangrove seeds need proper land to establish themselves in, they won’t grow in the water.

Red Mangroves

Red Mangroves

If you are in a kayak then the ones closest to the water will probably be red mangroves, the black ones being slightly inland in comparison, They are not exactly attractive so it is easy to see why they may have been ignored from the conservation aspect over the years. But they are an important habitat for herons, silk spiders, hermit crabs and juvenile fish. They also are a source of CRAP (yes, I did say that, it means Carbon Rich Aggregate Particles) which can be a food source for the reef creatures. Both red and black mangroves are listed under the Bermuda protected species act of 2011.

Prop Roots

Prop Roots

One can assume from place names that they were probably more plentiful in the past: Mangrove Bay on the west coast for example doesn’t actually advertise its name with a huge mangrove presence nowadays.

My photos are from Paget Marsh, which is slightly unusual in that the water there is fresh to brackish and not the usual salt water habitat where most Bermudian mangroves are found.

Dense stabilisers

Dense stabilisers

Loss of mangrove swamps on Bermuda could mean that the coast is not as well protected from future hurricanes and tidal activity. The density of their roots and trunks stabilise the sediment and mitigates wave damage, which protects the shore further inland. In other parts of the world mangroves are used in foods, furniture, even paper making or leather tanning. Bermuda has never had a commercial volume available, unlike the cedar wood that was used to within a tree or two of extinction, but just because it isn’t commercial doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable.

After the storms

Somers Hill after Hurricane Gonzalo

Somers Hill after Hurricane Gonzalo

Returning to Bermuda after Hurricane Gonzalo and the overwhelming impression is “BROWN” – the trees that were felled by Fay the previous week have died leaving inoperable foliage and any trees that had retained their leaves through the first storm lost the battle with Gonzalo. It looks like winter – only winter here last year didn’t look brown, just slightly less green.

Screw Palm outside our home 2 weeks ago

Screw Palm outside our home 2 weeks ago

Outside our home now - no tree

Outside our home now – no tree

Our landlord did a pretty amazing clear-up job at the tail end of last week and we returned to a fully functioning home.  But the drive along our road is sad:

Down the road

Down the road

Broken trees

Broken trees

Where a neighbour had put in so much effort earlier this year to create a path down to the water’s edge, little was left to guide anyone:

Neat steps leading down to the sound in June this year

Neat steps leading down to the sound in June this year

No entry - after Gonzalo

No entry – after Gonzalo

Wall pulled down as tree fell

Wall pulled down as tree fell

Along the side of our home the hedge has become see-through:



Before the hurricane

Before the hurricane

We lost some palm trees:



After Fay, before Gonzalo

After Fay, before Gonzalo

Gained a view

Gained a view

And for some reason we have had some extra visitors:





Won't go

Won’t go

I hate ants!

I hate ants!

Window Frog (aka lost tree frog)

Window Frog (aka lost tree frog)

Bruised tree, blue sky

Bruised tree, blue sky

I have been told that palm trees and Bermuda both are resilient and the green will return – the blue sky is definitely back.  🙂

People are very gullible. They’ll believe anything they see in print. (Charlotte’s Web, EB White)

Autumn news in UK is full of scary spider stories because that’s the time of year they all come in from the cold. It made me smile to read one such in a Bermuda paper – a possible sighting of black widow spiders on the benches outside the new hospital wing. The government entomologist has declared them to be brown widow with a less painful nip – so that’s alright then!

Last year, on one of my first exploration rambles I almost had a full blown panic as I walked into a huge sticky web connecting two branches at least 3 feet apart, with a very scary-looking spiky spider sitting in the centre:

Spiny-backed orb weaving spider

Spiny-backed orb weaving spider

Locally they call it a crab spider, for obvious reasons; it is a spiny backed orb weaving spider.

Did you know that the eponymous spider in Charlotte’s Web was an orb weaver? The author, EB White, spent some time living on Bermuda and it would have been a romantic connection if he had got the idea from these crab spiders, but it is more likely he saw the related barn spiders in his own childhood home and Charlottes “full name” in the book was “Charlotte Aranea Cavatica” linking her to another species of orb weavers.

The big spider in the centre is the female and somewhere near the edge a male or two will be biding his time for an opportunity to mate with her, a process reported to take up to 35 minutes. Sadly six hour’s later he pops his clogs and even the female only lives long enough to secure her egg sac under a low lying leafy plant. The teenage crab spiders wait in the undergrowth until they are big enough and scary enough to build webs out in the open – the appearance is all bluff, they are not poisonous and don’t bite.

If you want a poisonous spider on Bermuda then clean out the warm dark cupboards or sheds: the brown recluse likes to hide in cardboard boxes and shoes ( one reason I may invest in plastic shoe boxes). They aren’t good at web design and their tangled chaotic creations don’t catch much so they go out to hunt at night. They are not endemic to Bermuda, rather expats with work permits – they will eat cockroaches, so that’s a reason to leave them alone and let them live their reclusive lives. If you do get bitten then you probably need to seek medical advice because up to 50% of bites will turn nasty, some becoming necrotic. However, such bites are really not common – nothing in local news until you go back some 6 years. To identify your brown recluse it will have only 6 eyes and on its back a dark pattern in the shape of a violin, hence its common name “fiddleback”.

Brown Recluse Spider By Ladyb695 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Another solitary spider found in Bermuda, again a recent import, is the wolf spider or hunting spider.  The best time to find one of these is at night, armed with a torch, though I haven’t actually done this yet. Of their 8 eyes, one pair has a reflective lining, so like cat’s eyes they light up and glare back at you; a whole nest and I would be seriously creeped out! Have you ever read the book “The Haunting of Toby Jugg” – an old Dennis Wheatley story that my husband read to me once (I love being read to) – Toby, not only haunted by a hairy-multi-legged creature that he believes to be the devil, is also visited by a plague of smaller satanic spiders – in my imagination these are the slightly furry-looking wolf spiders with luminescent green eyes!

Wolf Spider By Bidgee (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

But far more likely inside your house will be “Daddy-Long-Legs” spiders – not the crane flies that the British identify as DLL, but leggy fast moving harmless spiders whose untidy webs rely on an element of confusion and panic rather than any stickiness or strength to catch prey. These are useful spiders – they eat ants, albeit leaving the residue husk in a give-away pile on the floor under the web, but that has to be better than trying to track the source of a long line of ants with the nasty-smelling insecticide spray poised for attack.

Cellar Spider or Daddy Long Legs Spider    (one of my own)

Cellar Spider or Daddy Long Legs Spider
(one of my own)

That leaves just the wonderfully named “golden silk spider“, huge and quite scary looking with a colourful abdomen and hairy legs – you have to look up, they hang webs in trees, high up when the weather is good, low down when storms are on the way – hence their common name “hurricane spiders”. Their webs are huge, maybe a metre across with even longer support strands so they can span across the width of a Bermudian road. I have been out these past two days trying to get a photo of one but I guess there could be a storm coming as there are none to be seen. (If I can find a photo with Creative Commons rights then it will be here:

Golden Silk Spider By (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

If not try Wikipedia! )

So finding a non-native black widow spider queueing for hospital outpatients is an unusual occurrence, even if it was brown, not black.
Bermuda definitely does not have “spiders large as saucers lurking in the dresser” (JK Rowling, Harry Potter #5)

Odontosyllis enopia

I did see it, honest!

I did see it, honest!

Well, that was my attempt  to capture on film the most amazing mating process ever. It has not been blacked out for decency sake – just demonstrates iPhone limitations!

Odontosyllis enopia, a teethed and necklaced worm; 10-20mm long they live in the sandy bottoms of coastal water around Bermuda. For the most part nobody would know they were there and they don’t do much. Then on the 2nd and third nights after full moon, at 56 minutes after sunset, they put on the performance of their lives. The female appears first, spinning in excited circles of fluorescent green.  Then the males are supposed to come zooming up to the surface, he glows when he finds her – powerful chemical attraction going on – then, well, she releases eggs and he releases sperm and off they go back home, job done.

July and Augusts are supposedly the best months to see it but last August was a washout so we tried our luck last night.  We saw several over a period of ten minutes, popping up in the shelter of the dock and by the slipway. Magic!

Sorry I can’t show you!

Whistling Tree Frogs

Eleutherodactylus johnstonei

It has been raining a lot in Bermuda these past two weeks – apparently 9 inches so far in August. So the whistling tree frogs have been squeaking by day as well as by night. For such tiny creatures they make an almighty racket.

I have read that they were an accidental introduction to the island at some point during the late 1800s, from the Lesser Antilles. I had to look up where that was – seems to be the Eastern islands of the Caribbean, the ones that include Barbados and Jamaica.

For something that makes soo much noise they are absolutely tiny:

10-25mm long

10-25mm long

There are over 180 species of Eleutherodactylus frogs.
They are listed on the IUCN “red list” meaning they are under some threat of extinction. It is a low grade threat for the E. johnstonei, though for another species once found in Bermuda, the E. gossei, the culture shock was clearly too great and none have been seen here since 1994.

Other names for them are “Rain Frogs” which makes sense, but also “Robber Frogs” which is, according to wikipedia, because of the noise they make – never met a robber personally but I somehow doubt they make that much noise.

I wanted to find out how they actually make the noise and came across “Frog Forum” where I was totally sidetracked by the story of the whistling frog that didn’t whistle – it has a sad ending 😦
I was none the wiser about why the noise is so loud but have learned that only the male frogs peep, in part to attract a mate and in part to defend their territory.  I presume they inflate their throat sac to amplify the sound. I came across an academic article describing an experiment to ascertain the female tree frog’s preference in whistles – long and loud was the conclusion. Their ears have evolved such that the female will hear a very narrow range of frequencies due to the specific anatomy, while the male is possibly deaf to most things! (there’s a joke in there somewhere)

A kids biology site  enlightened me on their reproduction:- the eggs provide a one stop shop resulting in mini frogs hatching, no tadpole stage. The hatching apparently looks like a mass melting leaving small frogs who jump off pretty quickly – sadly not yet captured on YouTube. Male frogs watch over the eggs which the female leaves in wet flower pots or walls or under wet stones. Interestingly the period until the egg hatches is variable and can depend on external triggers. This phenomenon is phenotype plasticity, not genetic. So within the one genus Eleutherodactylus are a whole range of reproductive behaviours – hatching as tadpoles or froglets with tails or mini adult frogs. The just-hatched-tree frogs must be minuscule – I will need a magnifying glass on my next tree-frog-hunt, Dora eat your hat!

On occasion one of the little critters (in the middle of the night aka little blighters) makes an exploratory jump indoors. You can hear it … but finding it and catching it is another matter entirely. And because its probably as humid indoors as out then they don’t seem to have the sense to head towards an open window.

On balance I like the whistling frogs. In case I miss them on return to UK I have downloaded an mp3 file. There are lots to choose from, one even entitled “Trilling tree frogs for inner health and tranquility”. You can even get them singing Christmas songs

I think this one is female

I think this one is female

Maybe it is easier to record my own audio.  🙂 

On my doorstep this morning


Bufo marinarus

I thought it was an ornament, that the landlord had been round in the night adding to the inventory.

This is Bermuda’s only toad (as in only species):  Rhinella marinara, after Linnaeus in 1758 – commonly called a cane toad, but also known as :

  • Bufo agua Clark 1916
  • Bufo marinus Mertens 1969
  • Bufo marinus Schneider 1799
  • Bufo marinus marinus Mertens 1972
  • Bufo strumosus Court 1858
  • Chaunus marinus Frost et al. 2006
  • Bufo marinis Barbour 1916
  • or: bufo toad, giant American toad, giant toad, marine Toad, Suriname toad, crapaud, kwapp, maco pempen, Maco toro, Aga-Kröte

They were brought onto the island by Captain Nathaniel Vesey.

Captain Nathaniel Vesey

Captain Nathaniel Vesey

The Conservation Bermuda website confidently states that he imported 24 toads from Guyana in 1885, but it may not have been so precise as all that – this is an extract from a book written in 1917 by the Bermuda Biological Station for Research:

Interview with Captain Vesey reported in Science, 1900

Interview with Captain Vesey reported in Science, 1900

It is a direct quote from Science N8  Vol XIII No 322 p 342 which notes that a survey undertaken in 1884 on Bermuda found no amphibians at all on the island. Frederic Clayton Waite wrote the article in Science and he was a Harvard trained Professor of Zoology at Ohio State University.  I found some of his other work of particular interest – way back in 1908 he argued for less didactic teaching in the medical student curriculum and more hands-on experience, though he favoured anatomy and histology experience and I might favour patient experience.  He advocated the dissection of cats, dogs or rabbits as a precursor to human anatomy  (not to be encouraged at home).

Frederick Clayton Waite, Professor of Zoology (with ideas on medical education)

Back to the toad. Where was I?

Over time several species of flora and fauna have been introduced into Bermuda, usually well-intentioned, but sometimes with less than ideal outcomes (Ladybirds to eat aphids that necessitated Jamaican anoles to eat the ladybirds, then Kiskadees to eat the lizards etc. I think I mentioned this back in July last year when talking about ants and cockroaches)  Well the introduction of toads seems to have been successful – with voracious and opportunistic appetites they eat all sorts of insects and roaches, crickets, millipedes and snails. It could have gone terribly wrong because there are no natural predators above the toads on the island.  In fact worldwide they are considered tasty morsels by very few species – maybe one or two snakes eat them if they have to.  Probably because the toads secrete a poison from their parotid glands when squeezed and this not only tastes foul (I am told) but can actually cause death if ingested by dogs or cats.  The Invasive Species Compendium database informs that:   The toxin causes extreme pain if rubbed into the eyes  – who would even test that hypothesis? 

Captain Vesey was probably before his time since now there are many instances of these toads being introduced to control crop pests.  He was a member of the colonial parliament representing Devonshire Parish.  The ships that the master mariner sailed includes: Eliza Barss 1857, a barque W P Chandler c1860, the Sir George F Seymour,  Atlantic, a clipper called Ceylon of Boston, a brigantine Lady of the Lake and an appropriately named brigantine Devonshire.
It does seem however that what Google remembers him for is bringing toads to Bermuda!

Now this toad has one more interesting fact  – it was once used for pregnancy testing!

Sources disagree on the process – the Invasive Species compendium describes injecting a woman’s urine subcutaneously into the toad then if she is pregnant the toad will produce sperm in its own urine.   While the Welcome Institute states that African clawed frogs (Xenopus) were used,  and the procedure was to inject the woman’s urine into the leg muscle of a female who then was induced to lay eggs if the woman was pregnant. The former was called a Bufo test but the latter called a Hogben test.  Britannica supports the Xenopus frog while Wikipedia the Bufo toads.  After googling for ages I have found a 1948 article in Nature  where using the male Bufinus toad is described – with the benefit that you can reuse the toad in as little as five days.  The research is interesting – after establishing the theory worked using the isolated hormone hCG, then they used 60 pregnant women and all 60 had positive tests using this method,  which would seem to make it more accurate than todays pharmacy tests – but the paper omits details such as how pregnant the women were and whether controls were used.

It is tea time now, not that I have been writing this all day, but it did keep me entertained on an unusually rainy Sunday afternoon.  We will not be eating Toad in the Hole, nor playing it, nor watching it.  🙂


Bermuda Onions

The story goes that Governor Daniel Tucker had onions brought to Bermuda in the ship Edwin in 1616 because he was an enthusiastic farmer.  This fact appears in  lots of places:  Bermuda-attractions, Tuckers Point and news articles. But is it true?

  • Daniel Tucker was Governor of Bermuda in 1616-1619….. √
  • Daniel Tucker was a planter in Virginia when called to be Governor… √
  • He came to Bermuda aboard the ship George…..√
  • There was a ship “Edwin”  in 1616….√
  • Edwin sailed from England to Bermuda, then to West Indies and back to Bermuda….√

The next sentence is complicated:

  • Virginia Bernhard, in her book Slaves and Slaveholders in Bermuda, 1616-1782,
  • wrote that 
  • Governor John Henry Lefroy, in his book Historye of the Bermudas or Somers Islands
  • wrote that
  • Nathaniel Butler in a manuscript now in the British Museum (Sloane MSS750)
  • wrote that
  • the ship Edwin brought to Bermuda “One Indian and one Negroe”

……….  but nothing about onions!
True, he mentions   “plantans, suger canes, figges, pines, and the like,”  so maybe some onions were in the mix.

Bermuda Onions, Botanical Gardens

Bermuda Onions, Botanical Gardens


It probably isn’t possible to find out exactly so we will have to believe the current version of history: onions arrived on Bermuda very early on.  It is true that by the mid 19th century onions were a significant crop for the island: in 1844 some 332,735 lbs were exported.  By 1875 the figure was around 4000 tons.  The merchant seamen were nicknamed “Onions” and Bermuda itself “The Onion Patch”.  

You might be wondering why they are so popular and its to do with the mild but sweet taste, probably the combination of soil, sun and water, but I have found three journalist articles saying there is “some magic in the soil”.  A gardening website said to grow onions one should use lots of potash and water and if you harvest at 50 days you get Spring onion-style onions with green tips, but leaving for 120 days gives you larger bulb keeping onions.  It also suggested sowing onions in between rows of other vegetables because they protect from aphids and carrot flies  (after googling for an image of a carrot fly I am not sure I will eat carrots for a while)

Naturally the medical aspects of onions interests me – I didn’t know that freshly cut onion has 10 minutes of antibacterial action so has in the past been used for grazes, wounds, beestings, boils and bruises – note for any junior doctors reading this: probably not approved by the GMC!   In India and China onion has been used to treat cholera and dysentery – 30g onion with 7-10 black peppers ground together and given every few hours.  Onion contains potassium, vitamins A and C and sugar without fat so it might just work on any gastroenteritis.  There are also some interesting studies ongoing in Texas on whether onion can inhibit colon cancer.  The best study I found (in terms of I like the conclusion not that I have analysed the technical aspects of the study) is from Queen Elizabeth College, London, that has found adding fried onions to steak and chips reduces platelet clumping and so could be good for cardiovascular problems!


This book was written years ago and you will have to come to Bermuda to get a copy – $12 at the Trustworthy Shop – has every onion recipe under the sun, or so it seems.  How about strawberries, onions, toasted almonds with lettuce and yoghurt poppy seed dressing?  Or an onion egg sandwich: 1 chopped Bermuda onion, hard boiled egg and 1 cup mayonnaise with chopped parsley, salt and pepper on decrusted bread.  For the National Trust researchers meetings Margie brings the most delicious egg sandwiches and I am wondering if this is the secret!

So I have covered history, medical and cookery – which leaves onion art?  This will make one of my daughters smile – onions are one of the few things I can draw.


Is the water safe?

Well of course we’re going to throw poo at ‘im! If you have any poo, fling it now.  (Madagascar)

Do we swim in that?

There certainly seems to be  a s***storm about sewage going on in Bermuda this week. If you haven’t read the local papers, in summary, the US Consulate here on island issued a warning to tourists that swimming off the south shore beaches of Bermuda could be a health hazard. I first saw it on April 1st and so perhaps unsurprisingly thought it was an April Fool.  Then today I received an email that originated with the Bermuda Tourism Authority.

No prizes for guessing what they were going to say – an emphatic

 our waters continue to be safe and beautiful for swimming

It is hard to find the truth, but have you seen the water? It is crystal clear, shades of turquoise and very hard to resist.  Yes I know that bacteria can’t be seen swimming along by the naked eye, but I would rather swim here than off Brighton beach any day. (sorry Brighton, I could have said Tenby or Swansea but the Welsh might get upset)

Sometimes reading other blogs is amusing, not that I am encouraging you to read them instead of mine, and one from the Washington Post reports one person who felt he had ear infections from Bermudian sewage (more likely to be fungal and common in swimmers, sewage or not) and anther who attributes cancer to regular swimming in radioactive sludge which apparently also comes out of this pipe.Really?

Actually most of Bermudian poop goes into cesspits under our homes, they have to be suitably lined and professionally cleaned from time to time, so I am told. I expect property owners will know far more than I do on this – how often and how much?  So the waste that everyone is so energised about is a single pipe that ends about ¾ mile off Hungry Bay.  This carries sewage from the city of Hamilton (for my UK friends, this city is nothing like a UK city, more like a very small town or even a large village) and it has the pretty name of Seabright Outfall. 

Tourism activists (good term that, I think it means people who moan about things with good intentions) are saying that this is Bermuda-time-bomb, hepatitis, enteritis and typhoid lurk in the bay for the unwary swimmer.  The Bermuda Tourism Authority – this replaced the short-lived Bermuda Tourism Board – points out that not only is the pipe 100 fathoms deep  but also that the prevalent currents will almost always pull the effluent eastwards out into the Atlantic ocean.  Almost always is a bit worrying – when does it not?

So I went back to the scientific research that the US Consulate claims underlay its statement, which turns out to be just the results for 2013 water testing off Bermuda beaches.


Some maths coming up

Some maths coming up (from Bermuda Government DOH)

To help:

  • Enteroccoci are bugs
  • cfu = colony forming unit
  • safe limits are 35cfu /100mls
  • EPA = Environmental Protection Agency
  • mean = average (shame they don’t give the range)

So, at Hungry Bay 25 samples were taken between April and November 2013.  About 4% of these were over the upper safety limit for the bug count . And here’s the maths: 4% of 25 is 1 isn’t it? I checked this with my husband (he has a maths degree so might be up to this ) and I have run it through my brain several times – what I think it means is that one sample was over the limit in 2013.  I am not sure that will convince many people to change their behaviour.

More maths – some claim the waste appears in golf-ball sized globules while others say they are marble-sized.  The volume of a golf ball is about 40cc (wikipedia, you don’t think I know that sort of stuff do you?) but that of a marble is around 2cc, so a 20 fold difference. I admit neither would be particularly pleasant.

It seems it all depends on what you read:  BM-Online paints a gloomy picture that hasn’t improved over the years; Trip Advisor had a forum discussion on exactly this issue back in 2006; Tony Brannon, a tourist activist who once was a member of the Bermuda Tourism Board (thats an interesting read dubbed Brannongate by a 2011 blogger) has been quoted as saying Bermuda government should approach the issue with a degree of urgency. All three online Bermuda papers have something to say about it. The two Bermudians I asked about it today both smiled and shrugged, and that is probably the approach I am going to take. Well, come on, have you seen the water?

The Atlantic Sea – and a boat


At least you can sea where to put your feet

Ribs and terrors in the whale

I have just started reading Moby Dick – and yes we went whale-watching at the weekend.

Why did this book not find a place in my library years ago? In my mind it is filed with Gullivers Travels, Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe  – the probably-should-have-read-maybe-know-enough-to-blag classics. I once tried Robinson Crusoe – it is so dull, endlessly boring like the TV series; was it really only 13 episodes?  (I keep clicking on that link just to hear the music)

Maybe it is the underlying theme of insanity that has caught my attention so late in life, or maybe such texts only become good reads secure in the knowledge that nobody expects you to write an analytical essay  (why is school so successful in eradicating sparks of interest?)

Herman Melville visited Bermuda in March 1888, arriving on the Orinoco and staying in The Hamilton Hotel.  His whale story had been completed over 30 years before, receiving unfavourable reviews: the ravings and reveries of a madman.  He died in 1891, an absolutely forgotten man according to the obituary in The New York Times (not quite forgotten then).

Back to whale-watching:


We took a trip with the Bermuda Zoological Society costing $85 each for just over 5 hours.

Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo
Tel: 441 293 2727 | Email:

Fantasea Diving and Watersports
Tel: 441 236 1300 | Email:

Blue Water Divers & Watersports
Tel: 441 234 1034, 441 232 2909

BUEI (Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute)
Tel: 441 292 7219 | Email: 

Island Tour Centre
Tel: 441 236 1300 | Email

They all cost much the same and all practice “responsible whale-watching”.  In Bermuda the season is late March to April as the whales travel North.  Some trips may be unlucky with either no sightings or poor weather, it is unpredictable.  We saw a whale breach early on in the day and then several tails and fins as they rolled.  For a short time there were two whales swimming alongside at about 30 feet from the boat between us and a fishing boat – they appeared turquoise in the sunlight and beautiful clear water. For the most part I was too busy watching to take photos, and I caught the sun on my forehead, not having the sense to have taken a hat.  None of the websites I looked up beforehand told me what to wear, so I will tell you: lightweight trousers that dry quickly as the spray is wet, t shirt for the start but a warm fleece with long sleeves for when the sun hides, a waterproof jacket which hopefully will stay in your bag, trainers or sturdy sandals, not flip-flops or your best office shoes, and of course a hat, one that ties under the chin!

Bermuda whales are Humpbacks, non-toothed filter-feeders who eat krill and plankton (one of the few words I have trouble spelling, often adding a c as in Planck’s Constant, which is 6.62 x 10 to the power -34 and probably not at all relevant here).  Seeing their fins or tails above the surface doesn’t give me a feel of how large they actually are, some 36,000 kg, but the fact that they have been evolving over 50 million years is just astounding. You can read everything you could possibly want to know about them on the website

I recall in 1970s whale song was a fashionable accompaniment to massage and flotation tanks, the prelude to swimming with dolphins on a doctors prescription.  I have tried to discover the supposed health benefits, let down by wikipedia, even Google Scholar fails to provide.  Some new-age sites proclaim whale song as a sonic filter for consciousness or a way to access planetary memories.  I can understand why people should wish to study the sounds whales make, but it is not to my musical taste.

Whale poetry, on the other hand, is:

The ribs and terrors in the whale, Arched over me a dismal gloom, While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by, And lift me deepening down to doom.

I saw the opening maw of hell, With endless pains and sorrows there; Which none but they that feel can tell- Oh, I was plunging to despair.

In black distress, I called my God, When I could scarce believe him mine, He bowed his ear to my complaints- No more the whale did me confine.

With speed he flew to my relief, As on a radiant dolphin borne; Awful, yet bright, as lightning shone The face of my Deliverer God.

My song for ever shall record That terrible, that joyful hour; I give the glory to my God, His all the mercy and the power.
That is an extract from Chapter 9 in Moby Dick, hymn or poem, however classified, it is certainly powerful imagery. 

I like Things to Do in the Belly of a Whale , for when life is tough.  So I have come back round to literary whales and I am going to leave it there.


Out and About

Who would give you a car wash for your birthday?

Who would give you a car wash for your birthday?


I had the car washed this morning – one of those that pulls you through which is always a scary experience. As a new customer I was given this leaflet and I must say I had never thought of buying someone a carwash as a birthday present.  I have to thank Chuck because I have inherited his unused points and points can be exchanged for soapsuds 🙂





Camouflaged zebra

Camouflaged zebra


Outside my husband’s office they have resurfaced the road and this is how they have reinstated the pedestrian crossing!






Car park round the back

Car park round the back 


Just up from here, I think it might be called Park Road, there is the junction where you fail a driving test: coming from Wesley Street you turn right into what looks like a one way street but for about 15 feet it is two-way and if you don’t pull over to the left, well, sorry, you have just failed.






From a tourist guide book 1952

From a tourist guide book 1952


or get her a pink bike?


Bus stop

  Bus stop

Maybe not suited for wheelchairs

Maybe not suited for wheelchairs


North Shore Road, outside a primary school – double buggy not such a good idea!




















Why do the guns point inland?      Alexandra Battery

Why do the guns point inland? Alexandra Battery

Old fire hydrant

Old fire hydrant

New fire hydrant

New fire hydrant







Leaking tree

Leaking tree


Paget Marsh is a boardwalk through dense vegetation, a nature reserve run by the Bermuda National Trust.




Aerial roots

Aerial roots







No door

No door











No self-respecting girl...

No self-respecting girl…

Clothes to pack 1952 Travel Guide to Bermuda

Clothes to pack











Abbot’s Cliff

From North Shore Road

From North Shore Road

If I were writing a travel guide then it would read:  A gentle uphill stroll with rewarding views across Harrington Sound.  I suspect you won’t be satisfied with that, so, having made the steep climb last weekend I have done a little research.  The one piece of information frustrating my search is Who was Abbot?  I am clearly not the only person to wonder – the Bermuda-online website has left it as Abbott (sic) is an old Bermudian family name.  (Both spellings are to be found on printed information and websites but I am using the one given on the road sign.)

Morris Abbot, 1565-1642, was an investor in the Virginia Company – that sponsored the fleet of ships including the Sea Venture that was grounded on the Bermuda reef and so laid claim to the island for England. Could he have been related to the eponymous cliff?  Wikipedia and some genealogical pages make more of his role in the Virginia company than is perhaps warranted since it seems from more detailed biography that he was more involved with the East India Company and with his life as an MP for Hull. I can find no mention of him even having travelled as far as Bermuda but two shares in Pembroke are allocated to a Morris Abbot in Norwood’s map of 1622. Locals will be pointing out to me that Abbot’s Cliff is in Hamilton Parish, not Pembroke.

Geologically  Abbot’s Cliff is a wall of limestone between My Lord’s Bay and Church Bay. According to Geoview it is 22 metres above sea level.

I chose to walk up the path from the other side.

The park is about 18 acres that was adopted as a nature reserve in the 1980s. It appears on maps as a green patch as far back as the Thomas Jeffery’s map of 1775. Certainly today it is dense with vegetation and the path in some parts was a find-it-yourself-and-step-carefully type.



You begin on North Shore Road opposite Francis Patton School.  The road soon becomes dirt track and winds around a field of banana trees (field here means small patch of land, not the vast expanses farming in UK brings to mind)


I suggest a water bottle is worth carrying. The view, once you have reached the top, is amazing.









Back in 1993 the conservationist David Wingate listed Abbot’s Cliff as a site at risk since many such escarpments have been quarried for building stone. There is another story regarding his cliff-related-activities: In 2002 he led a group to remove Casuarinas from the area, enthusiastically extending their clearance to Cockroach Island at the foot of the cliff only to discover later that the island was actually privately owned with its landscape previously carefully managed by the owner!  The non-infested-island above is the result of cliff-fall rubble thousands of years ago.  Future falls are inevitable for the cliff has significant undercutting below the water level due to bioerosion – rock eaten away by organisms, with the wonderful name of Boring Pelecypods.  I learnt that this can be distinguished from tidal erosion by its flat roof and position below the inter-tidal range.

In 2005 Abbot’s Cliff was the site of the gruesome find of two murdered young men.  A sad reminder that Bermuda is just like the rest of the world, inhabited by humans.

My first Google searches resulted in many pages on Abbot’s Cliff in England – near Folkestone, the site of an old concrete sound mirror a military leftover. Some days I am easily sidetracked: You will be pleased I was not distracted by the naturist beach at the base of that cliff.


A breeze at the top

A breeze at the top


Coral Reef

This post was triggered by two events – one was a talk about coral reefs at a recent International Womens Club lunch (yes, I have become a woman who does lunch) and the other a wander along the coastal section of a nature reserve to the east of the island that was littered with huge chunks of old and rusted metal, possibly from metal barrels or vehicles.  So yesterday I listened to two lectures on iTunesU about coral reefs (iBioSeminars, Dr Knowlton from the Smithsonian Institute).

Bermuda is the northernmost coral reef at 32 degrees north, sitting on top of a very very old volcano.  The sea mountain itself is basalt but it is topped with limestone made by organisms that fix calcium carbonate from the water such as corals.



What exactly are corals? 

Definitely animal, and the individual in the colony is called a polyp.


One I prepared earlier!


The polyp is effectively a column with a mouth at the top, it is radially symmetrical.

They all have nematocysts – harpoons of sting cells to catch prey.

Inside the coral is a community of algae, bacteria, archaea, fungi and viruses, which are essential for the health of the coral.


Zooxanthellae are algae that live in corals  – under the microscope they look like small green balls. They use sunlight to make sugars that the corals can use to grow.




Coral animals are hard to classify – even for the experts.

They all belong to the Phylum Cnidaria

Not all of them will make rock, some serve as anchors or to attract fish.

There are different kinds and four groups make stony skeletons:

True corals, Blue corals, Organ pipe corals, Fire corals (this one hurts lots)

Fire Coral: Millepora alcicornis

Then there are sea fans and soft corals which don’t build rocky skeletons.

They grow in complex shapes and one family can make several different shape colonies.

Corals do actually reproduce sexually, releasing eggs and sperm in a mass spawning event that occurs a set time after the full moon – the timing is down to a specific hour after sunset and studies have shown for example that one species will spawn at two hours after sunset and then another species on the same night but four hours after sunset.  Such tightly controlled reproductive life would be something of a bind for humans.

This next bit is important: 

Coral reefs face risks as great as that for the rain forests  

The risks come from:

  • Pollution
  • Overfishing
  • Rising sea temperatures
  • Coral diseases 

All of these lead to a process called coral bleaching.

Coral bleaching is destroying the coral reefs around the world.

It is named “bleaching” because the corals lose their colors.

It occurs when the algae get stressed and stop photo synthesizing.

They are stressed when it is too hot, too sunny, or the water is too acidic.

So the algae die and the coral spits them out – so instead of seeing the algae inside you can see through the polyps to the stony skeleton which is white.

Without the algae the coral cannot build skeletons so cannot grow.



Bleaching of coral. Photo from The Royal Gazette

The coral in the right side is bleached.

One cause of bleaching I had not fully appreciated is sun tan lotion where the ultraviolet filtering chemicals dissolve in the water in as short a time as fifteen minutes.  Biodegradable sunscreens are apparently available (Badger; Caribbean Solutions) so will be on my shopping list for next summer.

Corals also suffer from diseases, with unimaginative names such as “white band disease” and “black band disease”.  But as yet it isn’t known which bacteria or viruses might cause the diseases because they don’t yet know the normal microbiological life in coral. There are over 6000 identified species of coral bacteria!

One of the theories of coral disease is linked to seaweeds producing sugars that get absorbed into the coral which cannot handle them – diabetic coral if you like.  It is a problem because of seaweed overgrowth where weed-eating fish have been decimated by overfishing.  They have documented coral reef destruction with increasing density of seaweeds in the reef area.  Seaweed grows much faster than coral and so tends to take over pretty quickly.


Coral reefs are being lost at a rate of 1-2% per year.

Why does it matter? 

For Bermuda,

  • The reef protects the island from the force of tropical storms – without it each hurricane could be as damaging as Fabian was in 2005.  
  • The reef provides a habitat for commercially important fish 
  • Recently there has been pharmaceutical interest – some species of cone snails that live on the reefs can produce analgesics. 
  • Being the most northerly coral reef, thousands come to the island to see the reefs and fish. So loss of the reef would seriously damage  Bermudian economy. 
  • The reef is a natural boundary that protects the shoreline from the power of the waves – inside the reef the waves will be typically several feet lower and so less coastal erosion occurs.

For other places such as the Phillipines some areas are highly dependent on the reef for food and employment, so their economies would be seriously affected by loss of the reefs.

What can I do?

  • Take only pictures, leave only bubbles.
  • Choose my seafood wisely – only sustainable fish
  • Don’t buy coral jewellery
  • Reduce, reuse and recycle
  • Plant a tree – trees reduce run off into the oceans
  • Take away my own rubbish, but also pick up a piece of other rubbish each time I visit a beach
  • Stay informed and spread the word …


Spittal Pond

Saturday saw us walking around Spittal Pond, a nature reserve on the South Shore in Smith’s Parish.



As you can see from the map, it is a Ramsar site, which means it is a wetland of international importance.  The Ramsar convention, named after the place in Iran where the first meeting was held, was agreed by 18 countries in 1971 to conserve and sustain wetland areas across the globe.  Now there are 168 country members and a over 2000 designated sites. Bermuda has 7 Ramsar sites of which Spittal Pond is the largest. 



Why “Spittal”? 

Variations of the English word have been used since the Middle Ages and seems to be a diminutive form of hospital – these were referred to in Middle English as Spitals or Spittles.  For example, Spitalfields, in London, was an area around St Mary’s Spital, a priory hospital (not the exclusive group that run psychiatric resorts).  There are several places in England and Scotland with a form of Spittal in the name.  Someone has tentatively linked the name of this pond with a nearby farm they held sick cattle – seems a bit far fetched, though we did see the farm and some very healthy looking cows. 



It has not always had this name – in the earliest maps it was labelled as Brackish Pond and in some Peniston’s Pond after a one-time owner. 

Brackish is an apt description – the mud-flat-lagoon is frequently inundated with seawater during storms and so although it doesn’t have a permanent connection to the sea it has a variable salinity, becoming almost freshwater after rain.  There is a wealth of information on the plants to be found around the pond on the Bermuda Conservation website: 


A long time ago, when I did biology at school, I recall disliking plants and botany – animal biology and eventually human biology seemed so much more interesting.  Maybe it is a sign of getting old, but I quite enjoy identifying and photographing plants now. 




Ok, so maybe not the best specimen or the best photo, but it is one of my own! 

The rocks and the sea

This is my favourite part of the reserve, where the waves pound upon the slopes of rock, foaming across the flat limestone.  Image


Then as you climb up the hill along a barely marked track you reach Portugese Rock (aka Spanish Rock).  Here, in 1539, a Portugese sailor carved initials RP into a rock, with a cross depicting the Portugese Order of Christ.  The actual rock has been removed and replaced with a bronze copy – now with additional initials carved by unknowns on and around the plaque.  That was 70 years before Bermuda was settled by the English, how do we know it was a sailor and what he was doing here? We do know the Spanish arrived first, in 1505 Juan de Bermudez is reported to have discovered the islands.  That ubiquitous reference Wiki…… claims he never landed, but someone must have done at some point – witness the rock and also the vast numbers of pigs found here when the English did eventually arrive (hogs left by Spanish ships in earlier years, clearly they found the land plentiful for pig production). 

March is said to be the best time to visit Spittal Pond as migrating birds stop over, sometimes flamingos – I would love to see them in the wild (They have some very noisy ones at the Bermuda Aquarium and Zoo).  Whales can also be spotted from the shore during Spring. 

We did see a green heron, coots, ducks on the pond and in the sea crabs and large bright blue fish that are possibly Blue Tang or Parrotfish.  There are some large West Indian Topshell Snails and hundreds of West Indian Chitons – you can find all of these on the Bermuda Conservation pages. 


It isn’t a long walk, the area is just over 60 acres. You do need sensible shoes and be prepared to clamber over rocks and wade through long grass.  It is a Bermuda National Trust property, entry is free and it is open from dawn to dusk. 




This photo was forwarded to me from a friend, entitled “Hot Pursuit”
The news stated that an internal enquiry was under way – it looks pretty clear what they should conclude: police cars don’t float.


Yes, it has been raining – lots. September in fact had over 9 inches of rain, about 4 more than the expected average monthly precipitation. Maybe to compensate, we have had far fewer hurricanes and tropical storms than usual. Since I have spoken about the weather in a recent post (see Hurricanes) I have concentrated on water in this one.

Bermuda has no rivers, streams or lakes – no sources for surface freshwater. In UK the water industry draws from 650 reservoirs and 600 river abstraction points and to supplement that, about one third of the domestic water supply comes from boreholes and ground water.

The aeolian (wind blown) limestones that form the island of Bermuda are loosely cemented and extremely permeable and the soil cover is only 6 inches thick, so water does not collect on the surface. In addition the maximum elevation above sea level is about 30 metres so not designed for streams (or creaks if you are from USA). There are 5 groundwater lenses of brackish water, which are tapped to provide “non potable” water piped to about 15% homes and properties in the central parishes.

That leaves the rest of the island dependent on harvested rainwater. It is compulsory for every house to collect rainwater from the roof, mandated by the 1951 Public Health Regulations. This is the reason for the design of the white roof.


Carter House is thought to be the first building to have such a roof, built in 1640.
Limestone slates, 18 by 12 inches and about 1.5 inches thick are overlapped on a gently sloping frame and gutters are created across the roof from triangular stones, creating channels or “glides” that divert the water into vertical “leader” pipes down into a tank usually beneath the house. The whole roof is sealed and painted with a lime whitewash that helps keep water clean.

In most Bermuda homes the tank is in an excavation below the house, waterproofed concrete abutting the rock wall.
The size of the tank is an important selling point for properties, advertised prominently. Our home has a 41,000 gallon tank.
In UK we might be attracted by a double garage (pointless here where permitted only one car per household), in Bermuda it is the size of your water tank that matters!
The importance of the tank is reflected in the description given to heavy downpours: tank rain

One person on Bermuda uses approximately 30 gallons water per day
This is low compared to US where it is about 42 gallons and UK where it is 39 gallons.
It is probably down to historical need for conserving water. In the book I read when we first arrived, Tea with Tracey, she describes using washing up water in the garden and water collected from dehumidifiers to flush toilets – I confess I managed only one week of this, not a habit I found easy.

Is it safe to drink?

Well, it’s rainwater, but generated from marine air masses (the clouds form over the sea, in plain English)
This means it might have less organic nitrates in it compared with rain over larger land masses. In 2010 the Bermuda Government commissioned a survey into harvesting of rainwater but this did not cover the composition of the water – merely concluded that it was “safe”, seemingly on the basis that it had been done this way for over 350 years! ( ). On the government web pages about water conservation they do say it is “common practice” to disinfect the water with 1/4 cup of bleach for every 1000 gallons of water:

So in our case the tank would need over 200 bottles of bleach …. Surely not?
I think I will leave that to the landlord!

All the tourist sites state it is safe to drink – but they probably would.
I will filter it for you when you come to stay, just ask.

What happens if you run out or it doesn’t rain?


You won’t need to think about this in UK a this year, but here we are encouraged to conserve water:
Showers, not baths (my home has an enormous bath yet to be christened)
Buckets not hoses to clean the car (Offered in central car park for $30 – I hate washing cars)
Wash full laundry loads (that’s a bit hard when there are only two of you – so the sheets and towels are very clean)

If by any chance you do run out then for $180 you can have a tanker deliver 2000 gallons


And they do drive up the narrowest of lanes.

The environmentally aware reader will be asking “why not desalination

This does happen on the island using a reverse osmosis process. The government licenses private water companies to produce about 3 million gallons of water daily in this way. Half of this comes from the brackish water lenses and the rest from shoreline wells. This is where the trucked water comes from. One friend has told me they need about 8 trucks of supplemental water each year – this is something to consider when renting, an older home may have a smaller tank or smaller catchment area on the roof and so you would need to pay for extra, perhaps amounting to over $1000. Forgive me if I smile like a Cheshire Cat as I think about our enormous tank 🙂

I shall conclude:

Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where! Nor any drop to drink.

The Rime of The Ancient Mariner

(From which I learnt “don’t shoot the albatross”)

20131002-090124.jpg<br /


First tropical storm since I have been in Bermuda – and I am off island!


Actually it isn’t one of my own photos – I am not that far off island!

Hurricane – be prepared?

I have collated my hurricane survival pack, but is it all just hype and a waste of $ and time?


What are the facts? 


I excitedly downloaded some apps for hurricane watching, my enthusiasm a little dampened to find my husband already had them on his iPad (grudgingly I accept that his job in insurance makes them more than a passing interest). I spent a few happy hours watching Tropical Storm Erin, almost sad to see it fizzle out in the mid Atlantic.


Quote from Bermuda online (a really useful website if you ever consider moving here):

Studies conducted by the Bermuda Weather Service found that from 1609 to the present day devastating storms affect the island every six to seven years. Our tropical cyclone or hurricane season is from May through to November, with an average of one storm passing within 180 nautical miles of the island every year


It doesn’t take much research to discover that the last really big hurricane here was Fabian in 2003 – the library has numerous islander accounts of the event and 4 people died.  Windspeed was over 105 knots with gusts at 145 knots, waves reached heights of 35 feet and the storm surge was over 11 feet.



1 knot = 1 nautical mile per hour = 1.15miles per hour = 1.82km per hour

(wind is considered a navigational fluid and hence measured in knots by meteorologists, but translated into miles per hour for most of us)


A hurricane is a tropical storm with winds of 74mph (64 knots) or higher. The name is thought to come from the Mayan God of Wind, Huracan.  In the Pacific they are called typhoons.  As it develops it grows from a tropical disturbance to tropical depression to tropical storm then hurricane.

I absolute love the topic of weather and clouds and climates, it probably came from a really good geography teacher, but to save me boring you I will distill it into a few sentences:


  • Sun warms the sea and warm moist air rises, leaving a low pressure area underneath ( a depression)
  • Winds spiral inwards, due to the low pressure and the Coriolis Effect (spin of the earth)
  • The system gains energy from water vapour condensing into cloud.
  • The winds blow counter-clockwise in Northern hemisphere forming a closed spiral of storms
  • Categories are determined by wind speed, 1-5 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale (1973) (Robert Simpson experienced his first hurricane aged 6, went on to become a storm-chasing meteorologist and is now 100)
  • A storm surge is a wall of ocean that the hurricane brings as it breaches land.   (this website is amazing – has problem based learning modules and fun stuff)


The University of Florida actually has a hurricane simulator.


Now, where was I? 


I guess the basic question I am trying to answer is whether (ha) I am likely to experience a hurricane while on Bermuda.


Back in April, Dr Jeff Masters ( predicted 18 named storms and 9 hurricanes in the Atlantic.

Names, by the way, are selected in order from six lists of alternating male/female and a name is retired if there are fatalities.

I was initially sceptical, but it turns out that Jeff Masters is a meteorologist, lectures at university level, runs the Weather Underground website and writes a really intelligent blog. You can find them on Facebook where they post some really beautiful photographs of weather.


Erin was the fifth named tropical storm in the Atlantic this year in a season that extends from June to November.

The risk rises as the seas get warmer


Current sea temperature around Bermuda is 85 (really good swimming) and average windspeed yesterday across the island was 10 knots.  There are no alerts or warnings on any of the five apps I downloaded (I did say I get excited by weather).

So my survival pack sits by the door “in case


What’s in it? 


  • Torch x2 (a super light LED one that floats and has a secret compartment + a bike headlamp)
  • Wind-up radio
  • Spare clothes x2 sets
  • Blanket
  • Towel
  • Toothbrush etc
  • Food – pilchards, beans, sweetcorn, cereal bars and nuts
  • Water (in non-BPA bottles)
  • Can opener (overkill I expect as the cans all have easy open tops)
  • Knife, Spoon, Bowl, Cup
  • Waterproof document holder with passport, residency permit and cash,
  • Notebook, pen, book, batteries,
  • First aid kit, ibuprofen, sunscreen



Anything else you can think of?


Whenever we go on holiday I am greeted with a sigh of inevitability as I emerge from the house with “just one more thing” to fit in the car – it could be wellingtons, towels, washing up bowl (we camped a lot) or just a map book, but I always had something extra and thus I am still teased that it will be the same if we have to leave the house for a hurricane …. I can’t think what it will be, but I wouldn’t want to disappoint!


I haven’t really answered my question, and have probably scared everyone away from visiting.

To put it into context, before Fabian most storms veered off before reaching Bermuda; Arlene in 1963 caused some damage but nobody died, then further back the only really damaging one was one in 1926 (the naming system wasn’t in place at that time) which did result in 88 deaths, but all were from the Valerian British warship anchored close to Bermuda. Since Fabian there have been two tropical storms passing close by – Florence in 2006 and Igor in 2010.


Bermudian buildings are built to withstand strong winds – the older ones are limestone and the newer ones concrete, with limestone roofs and hurricane shutters on windows so I don’t envisage being homeless.  It is likely that the power will go and as good as Belco are, we may not have power for water pumps, toilets or cooking. I have candles and lots of books to replace the TV, but am sure I will miss the internet most!


Will the kit find its way back to UK with me when we relocate? A few years ago our children gave my husband for his birthday a “survival kit”  – one they had pulled together including fire-starting kit, compass, knife, space blanket, food packs etc. along with books on how to survive in various wilderness settings.  He still has it.  So, probably, yes I will take it back to UK just as it is – assuming we haven’t used it!



West Indian Top Shell (Citterium pica)

Native snail and protected. I found this one in Devonshire Bay. It is probably only a baby as they grow up to 4″ across – its about 2″.


I woke to freshly brewed “proper” coffee and the question “Where’s the baby powder?”
Post-dream disorientation took me back 25+ years: babies, nappies, feeding, changing… let me go back to sleep, please. But now we keep baby powder for the ants.

The ants have found their way into the kitchen. 20130702-115541.jpg

This isn’t actually my kitchen, the kitchen ants are not photogenic, these ones are to be found on the path outside, every day running back an forth along an invisible scented line.

They are quite small, well of course ants are, but to me they appear smaller then the UK ants. Pheidole megacephala – big-headed brown house ant. Like the English ants it is a member of the Formica family (nothing to do with laminate worktops) but the Bermudan ants seem to have two-segment waists while UK ones have single segment middles (petioles).

Until today I had no idea there are so many different ants:

The “bigheads” were first found in Mauritius and its a long way to Bermuda so I guess they travel well; in fact it is listed in the top 100 most invasive species. There are two types of worker ants in this species: Soldier ants with the biggest heads, about 4mm long, and Minor worker ants that are half the size and whose heads are relatively smaller. I think the ones in my photo above must be minor workers as none of them seem to have large heads. They feed on dead insects – I have been advised that they will congregate around dead cockroaches but that I should first trace the line of ants back to their nest before moving the cockroach and then spray the nest.


Wellcome Images

I am told you can still buy DDT in Bermuda; banned in US in 1970s and UK in 1984, but still manufactured in India and still used to fumigate homes in some places in the world.
For the medical audience, it works by opening sodium channels in neurons, which for the ants means spasms and death. The toxic effects on humans include endocrine effects, it is an anti-androgen, and direct effects on the genes, hence is a carcinogen. The DDT story is as much political as it is science and the ban is as controversial as its continued use in some countries. Paul Mueller, a Swiss biochemist, received a Nobel prize in 1948 for his work on DDT and it did prevent millions of deaths from Malaria.

The following have all been recommended to me to get rid of ants:

Mint leaves…. apparently they dont like the smell
Cayenne pepper….the capsaicin in cayenne pepper is an irritant to ants
Baby powder….the cornstarch in baby powder is irritant
Cornmeal …makes ants explode: they take the grains home, eat them and then presumably drink some water so grains expand inside the ant, and then they go pop – but might take an awful lot of cornstarch to feed a whole colony
Cinnamon ….but some people dont like the smell any more than the ants
Bay leaves … not very tidy
Vodka. …. 3:1 ratio of vodka to water, sprayed liberally, but might give visitors the wrong impression
Washing-up liquid and water mix ….works for a while but then they come back when it has dried

We have settled on baby powder, as you have surmised from my wake-up call. I have no idea where the houseproud urges came from as I never had them in UK, but I am resisting the inclination to hoover it all up as soon as the ants take a break. The smell brings back some of the nicer memories of having children, it is relatively cheap and so far I haven’t heard any suggestion that it is carcinogenic….

Update on that: baby powder does contain talc which a recent meta-analysis suggests is linked to ovarian cancer

(Daily Mail version)

(Academic link)

OK so keep it well away from “intimate personal hygiene”, probably still safe for ant prevention.

I mentioned cockroaches earlier, the Periplaneta americana.


After fruitless search for one to photograph I have resorted to that well-known w…pedia for a picture. They eat anything that is not alive and are common in basements – guess who isn’t going to unpack the cardboard boxes when it is time to return to UK! I havent actually seen a living one out here yet, I am assured it is only a matter of time, and I rather wish it would happen so I can get over it as the apprehension at meeting one in the bathroom at night grows with every night I escape unscathed. I like the friendly name given to them here: Palmetto bugs.

On my search just now I did find this:


It think it is a June Bug (Lygyrus cuniculus ) which apparently fly drunkenly at night in June (obviously), but it doesnt look exactly like the one in my field guide book so I might be wrong. Any suggestions?

There are many prettier and less annoying insects and bugs, butterflies, millipedes and snails, but none of these are threatening my kitchen so not priority no1.