Four-legged friends: dogs on Bermuda

The first dog was landed on Bermuda in 1609, and was probably a Spaniel called “Finder” or “Salty”: the ship’s dog of the Sea Venture. I don’t actually know the name, those are guesses based on the fact that medieval dogs were frequently named on characteristics. Ship’s dogs were used for retrieving things lost overboard, taking messages between ships, and hunting when ashore. Most definitely working dogs. The main need for a working dog on Bermuda in 2015 would probably be a drug-sniffing dog at the airport – they did have one when we first arrived but I haven’t seen him since. Neither have I seen any Guide Dogs for blind persons. But there are plenty of dogs on the island, most living quiet and happy lives, but some reaching headlines every now and then.

So what do you do if you want a dog on Bermuda?

Two websites might be sensible starting points:

Bermuda SPCA: http://www.spca.bm

Government regulations on animals: http://www.animals.gov.bm/portal/server.pt

If you are coming to live on the island and already own a dog then you will need an import certificate, a microchip and vaccinations.

The import certificate must be dated no earlier than 10 days before landing your dog and to get this document you will need a health certificate for the dog, original vaccination certificates and evidence of tick and flea treatment on the day of examination. There are no quarantine regulations, but certain countries of origin require a minimum of two rabies vaccines and certificates to confirm no contact with foot and mouth within previous 30 days. The government website suggests that dogs less than 10 months old do not qualify for entry onto Bermuda, but it is unclear whether this applies to dogs from UK.

Dogs and cats are subject to import customs duties: 25% plus a 1.1% wharfage fee. Now this is based on the value of the dog so you will need original evidence of the purchase of the dog and price paid.

There are dog breeders on the island, however, and there is a pet shop in Hamilton with the most adorable puppies. (For my RSPCA friends I am not advocating buying puppies for pet shops, just commenting on their cuteness). The SPCA have dogs “looking for forever homes” but they also comment that they have a long waiting list for adopting dogs.

However you acquire the dog, it will need a licence which is $25 per year if the dog is neutered but $115 per year if not. Unlicensed dogs may be destroyed.

Like UK, there are certain breeds of dog that are banned on Bermuda. It is far too sensitive an issue for me to venture into but just to state, pit-bull dogs are prohibited and will be dealt with harshly if found unlicensed on the island. In 2012 the newspaper revealed there were 1300 unlicensed pit-bulls on the island – but given these dogs are kept below the radar I have doubts about the validity of the figure.

There are some rules you will need to be aware of:

  • Dogs must be kept on a leash
  • Dogs are not allowed on beaches during Summer months, 1st April to 31st September.
  • Special permits are needed of you have more than 2 dogs on your premises.  Note that “premises” includes other households on the plot and requires the landlords permission. This multi-dog permit is specific to the dogs, owner and the address.
  • There are fines for being found in breach of these rules : $50 for an unleashed dog, $100 for a stray dog and $200 for a noisy barking dog, which requires only one neighbour to make a complaint.

Now I have owned dogs, and numerous other pets alongside the children, but I am not sure dogs are really a good idea on Bermuda, or indeed that Bermuda is best set up for dogs. It can be VERY hot, there aren’t acres of fields and parks for exercise and the dog can never run free. But thats just my opinion and I am sure there are hundreds of responsible dog owners who will work around the particular problems posed by Bermuda-life.

My landlord has an amusing story of his dog being taken to court for chasing ducks across Harrington Sound onto land owned by the Zoo … I cannot tell it like he does, but he had me in stitches of amazed disbelief.

Useful contacts for dog-owners:

Hermione, my first dog

Hermione, my first dog

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Little squid grow up 

   
    
    
   

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.

Camouflage

Camouflage

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. (IPPL.org). In the end only 6 came to Bermuda at that time, imported through an intermediary in Canada. At that time Canada had no legislation to control trade in rare animals, only a health permit for the transported animals was needed. It was not until 1973 that US ratified the Convention of Trade in Endangered Species. Prior to this time the method of capture of these gibbons was to kill the mother and export the infant. In a species with a family-based social structure this seems particularly cruel.

The experiments were not about epilepsy. The initial documents stated the purpose of the research was to observe gibbon behaviour in open field situations.

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

1973carpenter1

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.

Comment

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.

Lucy Harington of Harrington Sound

What’s in a name? One ‘r’ or two?

I plan on reading a book entitled “The Noble Assassin”, historical fiction about Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford. But I wanted to find out some of the facts about this lady before the novel inserts itself in my understanding as “this is actually what happened”.

Despite the spelling variation, Harrington Sound, the large inland sea-water lake in the middle of Bermuda, was apparently named for this lady.

Harrington Sound, Redshank island

Harrington Sound, Redshank island

Poets (John Donne and Ben Johnson) and musicians seemed to be falling over themselves in their efforts to honour her, dedicate works to her, write poetry to her – she had over 50 works dedicated to her. Why was she so popular?

  • She was well connected – her father was Sir John Harington, Baron of Exton. This family were said to have the most extensive estates in Rutland in the 16th century. Rutland? It’s a tiny county almost as small as Bermuda in the east midlands, UK.
  • She clearly came from a wealthy family, though some sources suggest her father and brother made huge losses and she inherited debts. She did however have sufficient to buy both Twickenham Park and Moor Park estates. There she became an amateur gardener – a 17th century Charlie Dimmock (you might have to be British to know her – a TV gardener).
  • And she was intelligent – home schooling resulted in fluency in French and Italian and she was knowledgable about classical art and poetry.
  • One author described her as “a fit companion for men” but we need to allow that in 1949 he might not have intended what this could mean today.
  • She performed in court masques, as a Lady of the Bedchamber for Queen Anna of Denmark she would join the other court ladies in these extravagant performances. For one, Masque of Blackness, the ladies all used body paint to blacken their faces and arms, which was actually quite controversial even then. She had speaking parts in some of the dramas and helped with directing others – clearly not just backdrop material.
  • But she wasn’t exactly “available” having been married from the age of 13 to Edward Russell, 3rd Earl of Bedford. He made some poor decisions and spent some years in prison and under house arrest after supporting the “wrong-would-be-monarch” but his fortunes picked up somewhat when King James came to the throne. It appears that he was happy to permit his wife an active life at court in her own right.
  • She may have been considered beautiful, though the few portraits that exist don’t really confirm this, but maybe it was like early photographs, smiling was considered inappropriate.
Lucy Harington

Lucy Harington from National Portrait Gallery (online digital)

It seems she never actually set foot in Bermuda, but as a wealthy lady investing in the adventurous Virginia Company she was one of the original shareholders and thus land owners of the island. She was the only woman among the 117 original investors in The Somers Isles Company that was granted a charter to control Bermuda in 1616.

One of the local websites encouraging tourists here states that Lucy Harington “did a lot for the parish”, immediately triggering an image of a parish fete with stalls of home-made jam; but I don’t think she actually DID anything for the parish of Hamilton and probably was only vaguely aware she had a large body of water named after her. After all, which would you prefer, a poem written for you or a salty mid-Atlantic lake that in all likelihood you would never get to see?

Early Bermuda Map showing Harington Sound (image Wikipedia)

Early Bermuda Map showing Harington Sound (image Wikipedia)

So why the spelling mistake? In one of the earliest maps of the island they do have the name spelled with just one “r” but modern spelling has morphed to Harrington. I don’t think it is of major importance, after all the Harington family descended from the earlier Haveringtons by a series of typographical variations.

Amazing – Harrington Sound has a Facebook page : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Harrington-Sound/135689173130265
Admittedly the person posting most on there seems to be me, and I didn’t even know it existed! How do these pages just appear? Oh well, maybe I will end up “doing a lot for the parish” just like Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford (1581-1627)

Sunrise over Harrington Sound

Sunrise over Harrington Sound

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.
http://tobaccobay.bm

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.
http://bm.geoview.info/whalebone_bay,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 . http://bm.geoview.info/shelly_bay,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. http://www.bermuda4u.com/sights/church-bay/

The East end snorkel beach is right at dockyard. I cannot review it as I have only played mini-golf here, not snorkelled. It does however get good reviews on Trip Advisor and if you are coming off a cruise ship or staying in the western end it is probably worth a look. http://www.snorkelparkbeach.com/about-us/beach-and-snorkeling.html
Which Fish

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

Fish

Fish

A comprehensive list can be found at http://www.conservation.bm/fish/
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.

Bream

Bream

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

 Barracuda

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.

IMG_0350

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.

Conch

Conch

Longtails

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)