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Beautiful Bahama Birds: Common Birds of the Bahama Islands

Beautiful Bahama Birds by Carolyn Wardle, Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore focuses on the common birds of the Bahama Islands and is targeted toward young and beginner birdwatchers.
Beautiful Bahama Birds by Carolyn Wardle, Lynn Gape and Predensa Moore focuses on common birds and is targeted toward young and beginner birdwatchers, as well as tourists.

This attractive, informative little guide is the most recent contribution in a series of island-specific bird guides supported by BirdsCaribbean and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Targeting high school-aged students, beginning bird watchers, and tourists to the Bahama Islands, the guide highlights 60 common birds of the islands. With illustrations borrowed from Herb Raffaele et al.’s (1998) A Guide to the Birds of the West Indies reproduced in a very nice, large format, the book does a good job of synthesizing a general description and habitat for these species. I particularly like the book’s design, with the use of large, bold fonts, and employing colors without overdoing it to the extent that a page becomes a busy mess.

But this book is more than an identification guide too. Introductory chapters in Part I address why birds are interesting to us, and curious facts about birds. A chapter relates how to identify birds, but also covers how to find a bird in your binoculars, and how to become a better birder through learning songs and calls, choosing equipment, and respecting a code of ethics. And Part I includes advice on how to make your yard more bird friendly so as to keep birds safe and coming back for your enjoyment.

Finally, Beautiful Bahama Birds concludes with a well-thoughtout section on conserving birds. Appropriately, lands managed by the Bahamas National Trust and Important Bird Areas are highlighted not only as conservation success stories, but also as bird watching destinations. The many threats facing birds are briefly addressed, as are first steps which newly engaged bird watchers might take to help provide for birds. Finally, the book concludes with a selection of stories and poems that illustrate nicely how birds contribute to Bahamian culture.

The guide includes 60 common birds of the Bahama Islands described using large fonts and simple language- a perfect addition to any new birder's collection!
The guide includes 60 common birds of the Bahama Islands described using large fonts and simple language- a perfect addition to any new birder’s collection!

Overall, I found Beautiful Bahama Birds to be a well-written and pleasingly designed book which does extremely well in providing an introduction to Bahamian birds. I would recommend it without reservations to any young person or adult interested in exploring what bird watching is all about. I would also suggest to anyone else contemplating writing a similar guide to add to the growing stable of island-specific introductions to bird watching, that they would do well to mimic the many qualities of this fine contribution to Caribbean birdlife

Beautiful Bahama Birds: Common Birds of the Bahama Islands is written by Carolyn Wardle, Lynn Gape, and Predensa Moore and published by Bahamas National Trust and BirdsCaribbean.  The guide can be purchased in the US through Amazon here.

This review was provided by Dr. Steven Latta, Director of Conservation and Field Research at the National Aviary. It is featured in the current issue of the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology and can be viewed here.  

Working to Save and Protect what’s Ours— That’s our CAWS

Scott Johnson, Science Officer with the Bahamas National Trust, shares the work that he and his fellow conservationists are doing to help raise awareness about the issue of wildlife smuggling.

CAWS (Caribbean Against Wildlife Smuggling) logo created by Team Traffic to help raise the profile of the threats to our native wildlife from wildlife smuggling and what everyone can do to help.
CAWS (Caribbean Against Wildlife Smuggling) logo created by Team Traffic to help raise the profile of the threats to our native wildlife from wildlife smuggling and what everyone can do to help.

As a Caribbean native, I can wholeheartedly understand people’s obsession with our region. The lush green vegetation, white sandy beaches, turquoise waters, delicious food, and warm tropical climate are all hallmarks of the Caribbean experience. Every year many people, aka “snowbirds” flock to this region by the millions for a welcome respite from the frozen north.

In addition to “sun, sea and sand,” visitors also enjoy the Caribbean’s abundant wildlife, including the chance to spot spectacular native birds like parrots, trogons and todies, swim with sharks and rays, snorkel on a tropical reef, interact with rock iguanas, and even watch sea turtles laying their eggs in a nest they dig right on the beach. Unfortunately, some people want to do more than just observe the wildlife—they want to take a souvenir home, purchasing wildlife products for fashion, pets, and novel foods. This is causing a serious threat to the long-term survival of many native species.

Hispaniolan Parrot in the Dominican Republic, a species targeted by smugglers. Parrots are captured in the wild as adults and chicks and illegally kept as pets or sold for the pet trade. Nesting trees are usually damaged by poachers so that they cannot be used by parrots in the future—a hole is slashed or the tree is chopped down, and the eggs or chicks are stolen. This is tragic because good nesting trees are in short supply. (Photo by Dax Roman)
Hispaniolan Parrot in the Dominican Republic, a species targeted by smugglers. Parrots are captured in the wild as adults and chicks and illegally kept as pets or sold for the pet trade. Nesting trees are usually damaged by poachers so that they cannot be used by parrots in the future—a hole is slashed or the tree is chopped down, and the eggs or chicks are stolen. This is tragic because good nesting trees are in short supply. (Photo by Dax Roman)

The Caribbean is a virtual treasure trove of biological diversity. In fact, it is one of the most important biological hotspots in the world, home to thousands of endemic plants and animals. For example, 172 species of birds are Caribbean endemics, found no place else on earth. Many of these species are found on only one or two islands in the entire region. The novelty of these species unfortunately makes them key targets for smugglers.

Wildlife smuggling is one of the largest illegal activities in the world, a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. Every year, tens of thousands of animals and animal products are smuggled to places like Asia, the US and other countries to satisfy people’s insatiable appetites for the new and exotic. In Trinidad and Tobago, birds like the Chestnut-bellied Seed Finch and Blue-and-Yellow Macaw are key species targeted by smugglers. In 2011, 74 eggs from both Black-billed Parrots and Yellow-billed Parrots were smuggled out of Jamaica into Austria in rum cake boxes by tourists visiting Jamaica. On the island of Hispaniola, Hispaniolan Parrots have been captured and sold in the wildlife trade and are illegally kept as pets, while a single St. Vincent Parrot is said to be worth $100,000 on the black market.

St. Vincent Parrots, endemic to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in flight. (Photo courtesy of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority)
St. Vincent Parrots, endemic to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, in flight. (Photo courtesy of the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Tourism Authority)

What’s being done to help curb this threat in the Caribbean?

Kareena Anderson and Laura Baboolal CLiC “Team Traffic” members giving a presentation to enforcement personnel of the Wildlife Section, Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo by Praimchand Anderson)
Kareena Anderson and Laura Baboolal CLiC “Team Traffic” members giving a presentation to enforcement personnel of the Wildlife Section, Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo by Praimchand Anderson)

Law enforcement is an extremely important tool in the battle against wildlife smuggling. Sadly, protection of native wildlife from illegal capture and smuggling has not been a major priority for many Caribbean countries. In addition, many enforcers do not have a well-rounded knowledge about their native species. This is where wildlife sensitization comes in.

For the past two years, the Conservation Leadership in the Caribbean (CLiC) Program of the US Fish and Wildlife Service has been training emerging young conservation professionals from around the Caribbean to tackle wildlife conservation problems in the region. Several of the participants formed a group called Team Traffic, and took on the challenging issue of wildlife smuggling in their home countries, the Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago. Over the past year they have been assisting in the training of enforcers in each country, giving them the knowledge they need to properly identify animals in their country and put more emphasis on the protection of native wildlife.

Sharleen Khan holding a Blue-and-Yellow Macaw at the Emperor Valley Zoo in Trinidad. This macaw is the zoo’s Animal Ambassador and is part of the zoo’s education program where the macaw is used to  raise awareness of wildlife conservation, specifically conservation of this species in the wild. (Photo courtesy of Emperor Valley Zoo)
Sharleen Khan holding a Blue-and-Yellow Macaw at the Emperor Valley Zoo in Trinidad. This macaw is the zoo’s Animal Ambassador and is part of the zoo’s education program where the macaw is used to raise awareness of wildlife conservation, specifically conservation of this species in the wild. (Photo courtesy of Emperor Valley Zoo)

Team Traffic has also created a Facebook page called CAWS-Caribbean Against Wildlife Smuggling, to help with outreach and education. International transportation companies such as JetBlue are helping to raise awareness through a public education campaign that advises travellers not to carry any wildlife products from countries visited.

In July 2016, The Bahamas hosted the Regional Wildlife Enforcement Workshop which brought together heads of enforcement agencies from across the Caribbean and International organizations such as CITES and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The successful meeting led to the recommendation of the establishment of a Caribbean Wildlife Enforcement Network aimed at improving wildlife enforcement cooperation in the region.

Scott Johnson, CLiC “Team Traffic” member and BNT Science Officer speaks to Bahamian and Turks  and Caicos Islands enforcers on wildlife smuggling during a workshop. (Photo courtesy of Scott Johnson)
Scott Johnson, CLiC “Team Traffic” member and BNT Science Officer speaks to Bahamian and Turks and Caicos Islands enforcers on wildlife smuggling during a workshop. (Photo courtesy of Scott Johnson)

CLiC’s Team Traffic group will continue to work with partners both locally and internationally to educate enforcers on the threats of wildlife smuggling in the region. With all of us working together, we will be a strong force against the ever-present threat of smuggling. Please support our CAWS!

What you can do to help

  • Don’t purchase items such as coral, products made from turtle shells, feathers, or any exotic animal product, as you may be helping to fuel the illegal wildlife trade market.
  • Never buy wild-caught birds.
  • Report the capture and sale of wild birds to the authorities.
  • Plant native trees and shrubs in your yard and support forest reforestation efforts.
  • Enjoy the beauty of the animals in their natural habitat to ensure them for future generations. If everyone puts in a concerted effort to learn about wildlife and wildlife smuggling, our region will be one step closer towards eradicating this illegal activity once and for all.
Trafficked Species Identification Guide developed by Team Traffic in the CLiC program (Conservation Leadership in the Caribbean).
Trafficked Species Identification Guide developed by Team Traffic in the CLiC program (Conservation Leadership in the Caribbean).

Many thanks to Scott Johnson, Kareena Anderson, Laura Baboolal and Sharleen Khan, participants in the Conservation Leadership in the Caribbean (CLiC) Program, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported program. Please follow CAWS on their Facebook page! The issue of wildlife smuggling and how are laws and protected areas help conserve our birds was the theme of our 2016 celebrations of the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival (CEBF) and International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD). Click here for more information.

Birding in Paradise: The Caribbean Emerald Isle of Montserrat

Perhaps the only guide you’ll ever need for the island of Montserrat.
Perhaps the only guide you’ll ever need for the island of Montserrat.
If you are a birder visiting the island of Montserrat, this small book will be a necessary purchase. It has a full checklist of birds found on the island as well as photos and descriptions of all the most important and most commonly seen species. Unlike many books, the birds are grouped by habitat—wetlands, forest, open-country—which is practical in many ways and allows the authors to describe the birds and their place within an ecological community at the same time.

The title of this book is a bit misleading…in a good way. It contains a great deal of useful information above and beyond birds and birding. This volume gives a short history of the island, an overview of its geology, maps, directions and images of trails and points of interest and an overview of the non-bird vertebrates of the island. It even has notes on traditional uses of plants and highlights a few of the island’s insects and other invertebrates. It closes with a section of “Practical Information” covering transportation, shopping, dining and more.

Whether you think of it as a travel guide with a bird section or a bird guide with a travel guide added on, definitely get this book before your next trip to Montserrat. It is available as a PDF download for $8 or a print edition shipped internationally for 15 British Pounds, and you can purchase either both online. The book was written by Dr. Mike Pienkowski, Ann Pienkowski, Catherine Wensink, Sarita Francis and James “Scriber” Daley and published by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum and Montserrat National Trust.

JCO Roundup: Volume 29 Covers Research Across the Caribbean and Highlights the Adelaide’s Warbler

The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology (JCO) is a free, peer-reviewed journal produced by BirdsCaribbean.
The Journal of Caribbean Ornithology (JCO) is a free, peer-reviewed journal produced by BirdsCaribbean.

With nine research articles, two book reviews, and an ornithological literature review, we are excited to announce the completion of Journal of Caribbean Ornithology’s Volume 29. Collectively the publications highlight valuable work spanning the entire arc of the Caribbean island chain, from Cuba to northern South America. The quality, quantity, and distribution of research represented in Volume 29 is testament to the JCO’s continued mission to build and grow a community of ornithologists around the advancement of scientific knowledge of all the unique avifauna of these island habitats.

These accomplishments would of course not be possible without the commendable teamwork that happens between researchers, reviewers, editors, and volunteers in all corners. Thank you so much for bringing your passion to the table and helping produce such a valuable resource to the field of ornithology.
Volume 29 wraps up with two complementary articles on the Adelaide’s Warblers:
Adelaide’s Warbler on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. (photo by Sean Rune)
Adelaide’s Warbler on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. (photo by Sean Rune)

1. “First observations of Adelaide’s Warblers (Setophaga adelaidae) outside of Puerto Rico, in the U.S.Virgin Islands” is an article by Sean M. Rune and LeAnn M. Conlon that documents the first sightings of this species of warbler outside its endemic range of Puerto Rico (and its island-munici palities of Vieques and Culebra). From one to four individuals were recorded during each of ten observation periods spanning from 24 March to 17 December 2012 on the island of St. Thomas. One observation of one individual on 6 January2013 occurred on the island of St. John. Seeing as Adelaide’s Warblers are known to breed during the late spring and early summer months, these observations may indicate the initiation of range expansion by the species from Puerto Rico to the U.S. Virgin Islands to the east.

Adelaide's Warbler with white lower eye crescent - a possible female - on St. John. (photo by E. Dluhos in Veit et al. 2016)
Adelaide’s Warbler with white lower eye crescent – a possible female – on St. John. (photo by E. Dluhos in Veit et al. 2016)

2. Further evidence of range expansion by Adelaide’s Warblers follows in the article “Vagrancy and colonization of St. Thomas and St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands, by Adelaide’s Warblers (Setophaga adelaidae)” by Richard R. Veit, Lucinda C. Zawadzki, Lisa L. Manne, Pearl Cales, Danielle Fibikar, Shannon Curley, Elizabeth Dluhos, and Robert L. Norton. The authors observed five Adelaide’s Warblers on St. John during January of 2015 and eight individuals in the same area one year later. Given that these vagrants arrived against prevailing easterly trade winds and were observed in the same area from 2012-2016, Veit et al. hypothesize that in current time we are witnessing the eastward colonization of new islands by Adelaide’s Warblers.

A thorough overview of Adelaide’s Warblers highlighting these newly published articles has been written by Jason A. Crotty and can be found in a recent article of the magazine BirdWatching.

Map of the Caribbean; the two final publications in Volume 29 of the JCO focus on the hypothesized range expansion of Adelaide’s Warblers from Puerto Rico eastwards to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Map of the Caribbean; the two final publications in Volume 29 of the JCO focus on the hypothesized range expansion of Adelaide’s Warblers from Puerto Rico eastwards to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The Archives Have Grown – We’re excited to announce that we’ve been able to put some serious time into uploading and making available older volumes of the journal. The JCO Archives are now completely catalogued back to the year 2005. Our goal is to continue working our way back in time, ultimately providing easy (and free!) online access to every article of every publication back to the journal’s beginning – Volume 1 in 1988. We encourage you to take some time looking around the archives to remember and discover all the great work that has been contributed over the years. We will continue to make announcements as more volumes are made available.

What’s Coming Up – The 21st International Meeting of BirdsCaribbean set to take place in Cuba this July promises to be an unforgettable event. Detailed information about the meeting can be found here, the meeting website will have a lot of updates in the coming weeks. Regular attendees of BirdsCaribbean conferences and seasoned Caribbean ornithologists should take advantage of this attractive venue to consider reaching out to young, burgeoning researchers across the islands that could greatly benefit from attending. BirdsCaribbean is making an active push to integrate new members into our community, and the best way to do so is by word of mouth from all of our members. Everyone planning on attending the conference should come ready to have an excellent time, and don’t forget to budget some extra time in Cuba if your schedule allows! Volume 30 of the JCO is already underway with a lot of great manuscripts in the pipeline. We’re also looking forward to the release of a Special Issue on Caribbean Forest Endemics that promises to be around a dozen articles in length. Rumor has it that we’ll be seeing some great articles on everything from Elfin-woods Warblers to Golden Swallows to Giant Kingbirds. Stay tuned!

By Justin Proctor, Caribbean Ornithologist; Freelance Writer; Loving Husband. Justin is part of our JCO Editorial and Production team and a frequent contributor to our blog.

BirdsCaribbean Awards David S. Lee Fund Grants to Six Worthy and Exciting Projects

David S. Lee Fund award recipient, Grenadian Wayne Smart, scans for seabirds in the Grenadine islands with his spotting scope.
David S. Lee Fund award recipient, Grenadian Wayne Smart, scans for seabirds in the Grenadine islands with his spotting scope.

BirdsCaribbean is excited to announce the first award recipients of the David S. Lee Fund for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds. We are extremely pleased to support these dedicated young scholars as they pursue important research that will increase our knowledge of and inform conservation management decisions for Caribbean birds. The award recipients are: Wayne Smart, Maya Wilson, Spencer Schubert, Ramon Williams, Holly Garrod, and Paige Byerly.

The David S. Lee Fund was established in 2016 to recognize the scientific and conservation efforts of David S. Lee, a biologist and naturalist dedicated to Caribbean biodiversity. The award funds innovative avian conservation research in the Caribbean. All projects demonstrate a commitment to engaging with local scientists, government officials, organizations and communities, as appropriate, to involve them in the research, share results, and build interest in local birds and their conservation.

Thanks to support from the David S. Lee Fund and contributions from an anonymous donor, BirdsCaribbean is able to provide grants of $900 to $1,000 for six exceptional conservation research projects in 2017, the first year of funding for the award. Congratulations to all the dedicated and hard-working student recipients, who embody the vision that we all share of a bright future for the conservation of Caribbean birds. We look forward to hearing about their work in forthcoming articles and publications.

Seabird nesting performance, colony declines and invasive predators in the Southern Grenadines.

Wayne Smart holds a Laughing Gull chick during a previous field season. (photo by Wayne Smart)
Wayne Smart holds a Laughing Gull chick during a previous field season. (photo by Wayne Smart)

Wayne Smart, Arkansas State University

Seabird colonies are declining globally for multiple reasons such as habitat loss, introduced predators, and poaching. The Grenadines support five Important Bird Areas and host a number of seabird colonies, though little is known about local seabird decline. Wayne Smart will conduct field work on five uninhabited islands off the north coast of Grenada this summer. By interviewing locals, monitoring nests, and deploying cameras and two types of traps, he anticipates gathering valuable baseline knowledge about the current size and reproductive success of seabird colonies in the Grenadines and how they are impacted by introduced rats. The data will inform seabird management decisions for a community-based conservation program.

 

The Bahama Swallow is an endangered endemic found on only three islands in the Bahamas. (photo by Melanie Rose Wells)
The Bahama Swallow is an endangered endemic found on only three islands in the Bahamas. (photo by Melanie Rose Wells)

Population biology, life history and ecology of the Bahama Swallow (Tachycineta cyaneoviridis): informing conservation of an endangered species.

Maya Wilson, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The Bahama Swallow is an endangered species endemic to Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco Island and Andros Island in the northern Bahamas. The swallow relies on pre-existing cavities in Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea), which are only found in large tracts on these island (they are also found on New Providence Island though the breeding Bahama Swallow likely was extirpated from here). Maya Wilson will undertake her third and final field season to investigate the population abundance, life history traits and nesting resource limitations of the Bahama Swallow. She is collaborating with the Bahama Oriole Project to develop survey techniques to estimate population and habitat data for both species. In addition, gene flow between islands will be analyzed from samples collected during mist netting efforts. Maya’s research will provide important information about two endangered Bahama endemics that will be used to inform conservation strategies for these species and their habitats.

 

Artificial perch installation as a method for enhancing avian seed dispersal and accelerating early-stage forest recovery in the central Dominican Republic.

Spencer Schubert, Old Dominion University

A group of seed-dispersing Palmchats using a natural perch. (photo by Spencer Schubert)
A group of seed-dispersing Palmchats using a natural perch. (photo by Spencer Schubert)

In Hispaniola, less than 15% of the original wet forest cover remains, primarily due to deforestation for cattle ranching. It is well known that frugivorous birds provide vital ecosystem services that aid in forest growth, such as pollination and seed dispersal. Spencer Schubert will travel to the Dominican Republic this summer to investigate the role of artificial perches as a strategy to increase natural seed dispersal and reforestation. From his previous work in the area, he has identified 24 species of frugivorous birds that aid in seed dispersal. Working with the local NGO Plan Yaque, he intends to install artificial perches in different spatial patterns and measure frugivore use and seed deposition. Results from this study will directly benefit Plan Yaque and their ongoing reforestation effort, local farmers, and the biodiversity and avian communities that rely on forests.

Distribution, diversity, and abundance of Grenadian birds, including endemic and restricted-range species.

The Lesser Antillean Tanager is one of the target species in the study of Grenada passerines proposed by Ramon Williams. (photo by Paulson Des Brisay)
The Lesser Antillean Tanager is one of the target species in the study of Grenada passerines proposed by Ramon Williams. (photo by Paulson Des Brisay)

Ramon Williams, University of Manitoba

Like many islands in the Caribbean, Grenada is undergoing rapid development leading to increased human disturbance and habitat loss. The conservation status of Grenadian passerines in response to development is poorly understood as there is little information regarding the distribution, diversity and abundance of species across the island. Thirty-five passerines are found on Grenada, including the critically endangered Grenada Dove (Leptotila wellsi), the endangered Grenada Hook-billed Kite (Chondrohierax uncinatus mirus) and the endemic Grenada Flycatcher (Myiarchus nugatory). Ramon Williams will begin field work this summer to estimate passerine species diversity and abundance, in addition to quantifying vegetation structure, in representative habitat types across Grenada. This study will produce a comprehensive assessment of the status of passerines on the island, potentially identifying areas of conservation priority.

Nest response of Broad-billed Todies (Todus subulatus) to an invasive nest predator, the small Asian mongoose. 

The Broad-billed Tody is one of two endemic tody species found on Hispaniola. (photo by Holly Garrod)
The Broad-billed Tody is one of two endemic tody species found on Hispaniola. (photo by Holly Garrod)

Holly Garrod, Villanova University

The Broad-billed Tody is endemic to the island of Hispaniola. Like all todies, this species nests on the ground by building burrows in embankments. This nesting strategy makes todies extremely vulnerable to introduced predators, such as the small Asian mongoose (Herpestes javanicus auropunctatus). This summer, Holly Garrod will return to the Cordillera Central region of the Dominican Republic – where she conducted pilot research in 2016 – to monitor nesting todies and nest predation. She is interested in the behavioral differences of todies in undisturbed and disturbed sites and how this might affect reactions to nest predators and reproductive success. Understanding how birds respond to predators under different environmental conditions has the potential to improve anti-predator management techniques for native bird conservation.

Conservation genetics of the Caribbean Roseate Tern

Paige Byerly, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

Roseate Tern chicks in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. (photo by Paige Byerly)
Roseate Tern chicks in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts. (photo by Paige Byerly)

The Caribbean Roseate Tern, a threatened metapopulation of Sterna dougallii dougallii, is thought to be declining across its range, though the trajectory of the population is not well understood. Paige Byerly will undertake a project to analyze the genetics of the Caribbean Roseate Tern in order to investigate gene flow patterns between this population and the similar Northeastern Atlantic population. It is thought there is no movement between the two groups; such genetic isolation has the potential to negatively impact population viability. In addition to gene flow, this analysis will yield information about genetic diversity and effective population size. Samples will be collected this summer from populations in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Massachusetts. Results from this study will provide researchers and conservation managers with valuable new information about connectivity, migratory ecology and population vulnerability.

To learn more about the David S. Lee Fund for the Conservation of Caribbean Birds, click here. If you would like to contribute to the fund and help support future projects, click here. You can choose to designate your gift to the David S. Lee Fund.

BirdsCaribbean thanks the scientists that provided thoughtful and constructive reviews of the proposals. We are very grateful to all that have donated to the David S. Lee Fund. We are pleased and proud to honor Dave’s legacy with the funding of these exciting projects that will advance the development of young Caribbean scientists and contribute to the conservation of Caribbean birds.

Birding in Barbuda

Magnificent Frigatebird in flight (photo by Ted Eubanks)
Female Magnificent Frigatebird in flight. Frigatebirds feed by skimming food off the surface of the water or stealing it from other birds—they cannot dive. (photo by Ted Eubanks).

Joseph Prosper shares with us his experiences birding in Barbuda and the choices this pristine little island faces. He discusses the importance of conservation and provides wonderful insights into the birds found here.

Barbuda is definitely torn between two lovers and probably feeling like a fool. This island holds two tomorrows in its hands. One is for it to remain a remote, low-key eco-tourism destination, with a small economy that preserves and features the island’s wealth of pristine natural resources and traditional culture. The other tomorrow is Barbuda becoming a tourist destination with mega resorts, modern lifestyles and greatly lessened natural beauty.

Climate change looms over both of these tomorrows, as the low relief is highly threatened by sea level rise. This is their moment to consider and decide. I know what I would choose.

I have been involved in bird watching for 14 years. I crudely define this activity as a form of wildlife observation in which the observation of birds is a recreational activity. Watching birds in Barbuda can be done with the naked eye, through binoculars or by listening for bird sounds. Surprisingly, in Barbuda, many bird species are more easily detected and identified by ear than by eye. Most birdwatchers, including myself, pursue this activity for recreational and social reasons. I have also engaged in the study of birds using formal scientific methods. Many birdwatchers maintain life lists, a list of all of the species they have seen in their life, usually with details about the sighting, such as date and location. The criteria for the recording of these lists are very personal. Some birdwatchers “count” species they have identified audibly, while others only record species that they have identified visually. Some maintain a country list, parish list, state list, county list, yard list, year list, or any combination of these.

West Indian Whistling-Duck (photo by Ted Eubanks)
West Indian Whistling-Duck (photo by Ted Eubanks)

My ‘birding’ life started in 2002 when I attended a “West Indian Whistling-Duck and Wetlands Education Training Workshop led by Dr. Lisa Sorenson of BirdsCaribbean (formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds) and the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG).

This was my introduction to the West Indian Whistling-Duck which sparked and sealed a lasting interest in birds and birding. This tall, graceful, brown-spotted duck is found only in the West Indies. It was once abundant and widely distributed throughout the Caribbean, but is now scarce and limited in its distribution due to illegal hunting, introduced predators like the mongoose which eat eggs and ducklings, and loss of much of its wetland habitat from development. In my pursuit of the duck, I traversed little known parts of Antigua and Barbuda, spending many hours observing the duck and widening and deepening my knowledge and experience with birds. My fascination and surprise grew as I realised through my association with other local birders, notably Victor Joseph and Andrea Otto, that as small and as dry as Antigua and Barbuda is, the country hosts well over 182 species of birds including numerous migrants.

Unlike many birders, I do not have a life list, but strive to see as many birds as possible, and rarities and endemics are at the top of my list.

I was therefore thrilled to learn that, as tiny as my country was, Barbuda is home to the endemic Barbuda Warbler, recently elevated to species status after genetic research deemed it worthy of this designation.

One of my best birding moments was setting eyes on this warbler in 2005. My guide, Mr. Calvin Gore, took me to the spot for the Barbuda Warbler. This is quite easy to find: Going south on the main road, about 2 miles from the airport is a thick section of pipe on the left. There is an embankment about 100-200 feet to the left, which holds water occasionally, but was bone dry with no signs of having been a pond on my visit. There is a pond on the right as well, mostly dry. Just before reaching the embankment I heard a warbler sing, and shortly thereafter spotted the Barbuda Warbler, flitting about in the dry scrub. It is a beautiful little bird with gray upperparts, bright yellow underparts, a yellow line above the eye and a yellow or whitish crescent below it. I saw and heard many Barbuda Warblers during the 3 hours I spent here.

The Barbuda Warbler is a species of bird in the Parulidae family. It is endemic to the island of Barbuda and known locally as the Christmas Bird. Its habitat is dry scrubland near wetlands and mangroves. This small warbler has a distinctive bright yellow throat and breast and gray upper parts. (photo by Ted Eubanks).

I spooked a pair of Helmeted Guineafowl and got excellent looks at Lesser Antillean Flycatcher, Mangrove Cuckoo, and Caribbean Elaenia. I saw many migrant and resident shorebirds and waterbirds, including White-cheeked Pintails, Stilt Sandpipers, Short-billed-Dowitchers, Black-necked Stilts, Wilson’s Plover, White-rumped Sandpipers, Common Snipe, and a pair of Pectoral Sandpipers. I walked around the town—there were Cliff Swallows with Barn Swallows at the airport, supposedly rare for Barbuda. There is a place in the lagoon where West Indian Whistling-Ducks come in the evening, uttering their beautiful haunting whistling call as they fly in. Visiting Barbuda to see the warbler and the many other special birds that one can see in Barbuda makes it a worthwhile trip for any birder or nature lover.

Magnificent Frigatebird colony (photo by Karron James)
Visiting the Magnificent Frigatebird colony in Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda. (photo by Karron James)

My love affair with birds and birding led to my membership in BirdsCaribbean, a non-profit regional organization dedicated to studying and conserving Caribbean birds and their habitats, and my travels all over the Caribbean including Trinidad, Tobago, Puerto Rico, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, Guadeloupe and beyond to Canada, South America and Europe. Birding allowed me to feed my other great love which is education. I studied birds, focusing on the West Indian Whistling-Duck, and advocated for their conservation on Antigua and Barbuda. and delved into the ways of any bird I encountered. I happily shared my discoveries with many children, residents, and visitors wanting them to experience a similar amazement at the world of birds.

At the Codrington Lagoon in Barbuda where the Magnificent Frigatebird engaged my attention – oh what a sight for my eager eyes! I took a small boat from the harbour in Codrington to the Frigatebird Sanctuary in the northwest of the lagoon. I thoroughly enjoyed the crossing and at the sanctuary I was taken within 2 metres of thousands of birds nesting on top of clumps of short Red Mangrove bushes. They were totally unmoved by my presence. Surveys show there are over 5,000 frigatebirds using the site, making it the largest colony in the Caribbean. It is really something to see these birds and the way they live in the wild. By this time George Jeffrey, my tour guide, was moving me along with a pole, the boat was silent except for the sound of my camera shutter. I was there during mating season (February) and it was fascinating to see the males puffing out their brilliant red neck pouches to attract the females. I could hear the sound of the males drumming their pouches all around me.

Magnificent Frigatebirds adults and chicks (photo by Jenny Daltry)
Magnificent Frigatebirds adults and chicks in a nesting colony. Perched male Frigatebirds display by inflating their large red throat pouch (photo by Jenny Daltry).

Fascinated, I asked where the ‘downies’ go when there is a hurricane? “When there’s a storm the babies climb deep into the mangroves and wait it out, while the adults fly away,” George said. “Some people call them Weather Birds, because there will be hundreds of them going off in a cloud before the storm hits.” George then provided a demonstration of how important sticks are to the male frigatebirds for building their nests. He threw a stick up in the air and then gave a play-by-play commentary of the male frigates fighting over the stick and even pulling it away from another bird while in flight until they could find a way back to their nest. There were males displaying, chicks and females sitting on nests—an incredible sight. A definite must-see if one is in Barbuda.

My hope is that these birds and the pristine nature of Barbuda will still be here for generations.

Let’s choose a tomorrow that does not succumb to the bulldozer but instead preserves this natural wealth for all to experience and enjoy.

By Joseph (Junior) Prosper, schoolteacher in Antigua and dedicated local conservationist. Reprinted with permission from the tourism coffee table book: Simply Antigua Barbuda. The book is available to order online at this link. The online version of the book can be viewed here.

To learn more about birds and birding in the Caribbean, visit BirdsCaribbean and the Caribbean Birding Trail. We encourage you to support the conservation of the Caribbean’s unique birds and wildlife by joining a local environmental group such as the Environmental Awareness Group of Antigua & Barbuda.

Male White-cheeked Pintail (photo by Ted Eubanks).
Male White-cheeked Pintail in Antigua. These sedentary tropical ducks are most often found in brackish waters such as coastal lagoons and mangrove swamps. (photo by Ted Eubanks).

Simply Antigua Barbuda: A Coffee Table Book That Highlights Sustainable Tourism, Birds and Nature

A male White-cheeked Pintail preening. This beautiful sedentary tropical duck is common on a number of Caribbean islands, including Antigua and Barbuda.  (photo by Binkie van Es)
A male White-cheeked Pintail preening. This beautiful sedentary tropical duck is common on a number of Caribbean islands, including Antigua and Barbuda. (photo by Binkie van Es)

Let’s face it: Coffee table books often lie on the table, mostly untouched unless you pick them up in a moment of boredom, flick through the pages, and put them down again. However, once you open Simply Antigua Barbuda, you will become immersed. It is far more varied than the average tourism publication, with a rich diversity of topics – from finely drawn sketches of the islands’ National Heroes to – yes, an article on Birding in Barbuda, and a strong focus on sustainable living and conservation for future generations. As its authors and publishers note, it is“designed to be dipped into” – not only to enjoy the gorgeous photographs but also to obtain detailed information on the history, culture and environment of the twin-island nation. And this 264-page, high-quality publication was all put together in six months!

Magnificent Frigatebird male inflates his bright red throat pouch to attract a mate at Barbuda's Frigatebird Colony, the largest in the Caribbean. (photo by Kate Lavasseur)
Magnificent Frigatebird male inflates his bright red throat pouch to attract a mate at Barbuda’s Frigatebird Colony, the largest in the Caribbean. (photo by Kate Lavasseur)

The exquisite photographs portray the islands’ natural beauty, from the calm, unsullied blue of Barbuda’s Codrington Lagoon to hidden hiking trails and Antigua’s 365 famous beaches (“one for every day of the year”). An article authored by Daryl George, board member of Antigua’s Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), includes stunning close up photographs of Hawksbill and Leatherback Turtle hatchlings. EAG and BirdsCaribbean member Natalya Lawrence reminds the reader that there is much more to Antigua & Barbuda than beaches, focusing on the offshore islands. She describes the success of the Offshore Islands Conservation Programme, which has resulted in the removal of alien and invasive species and a surge in numbers in bird populations and native species in the past 20 years. Natalya also highlights the Floating Classroom program, which has opened the eyes of young Antiguans to natural wonders on their doorstep.

The section on Barbuda – a low-key tourism destination that has encountered environmental challenges – emphasizes the welcome move towards low impact, sustainable tourism and programs such as the Blue Halo Initiative, a collaborative coastal zoning project that is helping to protect the island’s fragile coastline and marine ecosystems. Barbuda has the largest Frigatebird Sanctuary in the western hemisphere. This extraordinary bird is among those highlighted in an article by EAG and BirdsCaribbean member Joseph (Junior) Prosper, edited by BirdsCaribbean’s Lisa Sorenson. Striking photographs by other BirdsCaribbean members (Andrea Otto, Binkie van Es and Ted Eubanks) of the supremely elegant West Indian Whistling-Duck, the Barbuda Warbler and other species enhance the text.

Simply Antigua Barbuda Tourism Coffee Table Book
Simply Antigua Barbuda Tourism Coffee Table Book

The book beautifully integrates tips on sustainable living with the many attractions Antigua has to offer – including cuisine. There are delicious recipes for the invasive Lionfish, and important information on the closed seasons for the Queen Conch, Parrotfish, Spiny Lobster and several other important marine species. Dr. Evelyn Weekes of the Agro-Ecology Society of Antigua describes several climate-smart projects that help to enhance the tourism product as well as the lives of Antiguans.

Joseph Prosper observes in his article Birds of Barbuda: “Let’s choose a tomorrow that does not succumb to the bulldozer but instead preserves this natural wealth for all to experience and enjoy.” This gem of a book reminds us of the fragility of the region’s island ecosystems, and the need to preserve them – not only for tourists.

The book is available to order online at this link.

The online version of the book can be viewed here.

By Emma Lewis, frequent blogger for BirdsCaribbean and member of BirdsCaribbean’s Media Working Group. Find me at Petchary’s Blog!

Join the Conservian Live-Aboard Schooner Expedition 2017

Wilson's Plover chick. This is an excellent opportunity to gain multi-species shorebird ID and monitoring experience.
Wilson’s Plover chick. This is an excellent opportunity to gain multi-species shorebird ID and monitoring experience.

Your help is needed to protect beach-nesting birds, nests, and young. Conservian is planning for Year 2 of their shorebird and habitat conservation program in the Bahamas. Come join them for the adventure of a lifetime!

Conservian is seeking a weekly crew of 8 to 12 enthusiastic volunteers for our Bahamas shorebird habitat conservation project in May 2017 aboard the 75ft schooner “Dream Catcher”. This is an excellent opportunity to gain field experience and shorebird ID skills. Trip cost for one week is $1,250 and includes your bunk, onboard meals, water, and ground transportation associated with project. Participants will fly to the Bahamas to designated airports for shuttle transport to schooner. A valid passport is required. Airfare and insurance are not included.

Project Summary

In 2017, Conservian and partners will continue on-the-ground protective and restorative measures to limit human-caused disturbance, and control invasive Australian pine at key Piping Plover, shorebird, and seabird sites in the Bahamas. Field volunteers will participate in collecting new data on shorebirds and seabirds of the Bahamas. Selected sites include Globally Important and locally Important Bird Areas and national parks of the Bahamas, such as Lucaya National Park IBA, Peterson Cay National Park IBA, Joulter Cays National Park IBA, and the Berry Islands, as well as additional key shorebird sites on Grand Bahama Island and Great Abaco. Read about our exciting and successful field season in 2016 here.

Our days will be filled with much adventure. The focus of the work is surveying for beach-nesting bird breeding pairs, nests and young, and working with local volunteers to implement protective measures in the field. Focal species include Wilson’s Plovers, American Oystercatchers, Least Terns and other colonial nesting species. We will work in both populated and remote areas, sail blue Caribbean waters, visit white sandy beaches, boat to little islands, conduct ground surveys for beach-nesting birds, nests, and downy chicks, and meet new people. We will work with local volunteers to post and sign shorebird sites and control invasive Australian pine. Field crew will assistant with collecting data on breeding pairs, habitat assessment and human-created disturbance.  Field crew will also assist with shipboard duties; sailing, cooking and cleaning. There will be time to fish, snorkel, and visit local island towns.

Our days will be filled with much adventure aboard the 75ft schooner “Dream Catcher”.
Our days will be filled with much adventure aboard the 75ft schooner “Dream Catcher”.

Project partners include: BirdsCaribbean, Bahamas National Trust, International Conservation Fund of Canada, USFWS/NMBCA, LightHawk, Dow AgroSciences, Grand Bahama Nature Tours, Optics for the Tropics, Grand Bahama Port Authority, Bahamas Public Parks & Beaches Authority, Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology Commission, Rand Nature Center, Abaco Friends of the Environment, Treasure Cay Community Center, Royal Bahamas Police Force/Marine Support.

Project Activities:

  • Protect, post & sign shorebird & seabird sites
  • Collect new data on nesting shorebirds & habitat
  • Observe/assist with bird banding (conditions permitting)
  • Control invasive Australian pine on beach habitats
  • Work with local volunteers to accomplish the above goals

Qualifications: Applicants must be responsible, adventurous, in good physical condition, enjoy working in teams and be capable of walking several miles during warm weather in the Caribbean. Applicants must be comfortable living communally onboard a schooner and riding in small boats to access survey sites.

May expedition schedule and locations (final dates TBD)

Assist for one week or more:

Week 1: Grand Bahama Island- (Freeport GBI Int. Airport)

Week 2: Great Abaco, west- (Freeport/Marsh Harbour Airport)

Week 3: Great Abaco, east- (Marsh Harbour Airport)

Week 4: Berry Islands & Joulter Cays-(Marsh Harbour/Nassau Int.Airport)

If you would like to join our conservation crew for a week or more as part of our Volunteer Field Crew:

Please send 1) letter of interest 2) resume 3) names, email addresses and phone numbers of 2 references to Margo Zdravkovic. Please label all attachments with your name. The review of applicants is ongoing and will continue until positions are filled.

See the article on 2016 project from our supporters at LightHawk.

Read the story of our successful 2016 expedition. 

Visit CoastalBird.org for more information about our 2017 expedition.

Visit Coastal Bird Conservation on Facebook for more information on Conservian’s coastal bird conservation work.

Download the Expedition Brochure.

2017 President’s Address

BirdsCaribbean President Andrew Dobson
BirdsCaribbean President Andrew Dobson

Dear Members and Friends of BirdsCaribbean,

What a start to the year! I am excited and honored to be serving you as President of BirdsCaribbean as 2017 gets under way. It is a wonderful opportunity to work with so many passionate and experienced conservationists in the region and beyond. I hope you will support our organization’s efforts to protect the Caribbean’s amazing  birds and their habitats.

Let me tell you a little about myself, and my passion for the islands’ birds. My relationship with BirdsCaribbean began in 2002, when I attended the international meeting in Cuba.  As my interest grew, I wrote a Birdwatching Guide to Bermuda in that same year. From 2005 – 2008, I served as President of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, which is now BirdsCaribbean.  I have served on the executive of the Bermuda Audubon Society since 1990 – including many terms as President – and published the Society’s newsletter for a number of years. I have been a regional editor for the journal North American Birds since 1995. In Bermuda, where I live, I have enjoyed coordinating BirdsCaribbean’s outreach programs, such as the Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival and International Migratory Bird Day

My love of birds began as a small boy in England. My parents maintained nest boxes in the garden. We didn’t own a car, so weekends were spent on local family walks, which led to a growing appreciation for nature. When I landed my first job, I bought some binoculars; and when I went off to university I was fortunate to meet a birding mentor. Similarly, since I arrived in Bermuda, Dr. David Wingate has been a great inspiration. While I have had a lifetime career as a high school teacher, I have also immersed myself in the world of birds. I am continually fascinated by the variety of bird species in the Caribbean. I especially enjoy getting out in the field, running birdwatching courses and leading field trips – including an annual bird camp. And like many of you, bird photography is something I love to do.

The Caribbean is a biodiversity hotspot, with an impressive 172 endemic species found in the region. It is home to more than 560 bird species. The region is also a vital seasonal home for over 180 migratory species that winter in the region or pass through on migration. However, there are so many threats to our birdlife, such as habitat loss, invasive species, hunting, the pet trade and the effects of climate change.

BirdsCaribbean is leading efforts to reduce these major challenges through a series of innovative programs and projects. Through our new BirdSleuth Caribbean program we are training teachers in the Caribbean to get young people involved in exploring the natural world and in building their science skills. The Caribbean Waterbird Census Program was set up to study, monitor and conserve these birds and the habitats they need to survive. The Caribbean Birding Trail is an exciting initiative that aims to promote birdwatching as a tool to facilitate the conservation of the birds and habitats endemic to the Caribbean, one of the most biodiverse regions of the planet. By promoting birding, showcasing the best birding sites, and training and equipping guides, the program creates jobs and other incentives to preserve habitats.

Andrew Dobson birding with his daughters in Bermuda.
Andrew Dobson birding with his daughters in Bermuda.

We appreciate your support for our important programs in raising awareness of and halting threats to birds; and we need your continued help to build the capacity of local organizations to tackle these problems. These local organizations are BirdsCaribbean’s lifeblood: they advocate on behalf of birds, and boost Caribbean citizens’ avian knowledge as we seek to advance science and conservation. If we are going to look after our special Caribbean birds, we need to continue to foster an appreciation for the natural environment and the need to protect bird habitat. Above all, we need to get young people on board – not only interested, but also actively involved in the organization, to ensure a future generation of conservationists.

So how about a New Year’s resolution to take some young people birding? I was thrilled when both of my daughters asked for binoculars as birthday presents without my prompting. They now record their sightings in eBird Caribbean. When they were home from university at Christmas, they once again insisted on helping me with the annual Christmas Bird Count. We discovered the first record of a Common Eider in Bermuda – how cool was that! Special moments like that can inspire a lifetime interest in birds.

I look forward to working with you all to save our region’s magnificent birds and their habitats.

Sincerely,

Andrew Dobson Signature
Andrew Dobson
President, BirdsCaribbean

p.s. With your support, together we can build a future where the Caribbean’s unique natural heritage can flourish and form the basis for a future rooted in sustainable relationships between people and the environment. I encourage you to become a member of BirdsCaribbean today. If you are already a member, please consider donating your time, efforts and financial gifts to our cause, contact us about volunteer opportunities, come to one of our meetings or training sessions, go on one of our trips, participate in one of our programs, and encourage others to join in our efforts. I promise you will find it one of the most rewarding experiences in your life.

Female Common Eider, spotted 19 December 2016, first record for Bermuda. (photo by Andrew Dobson)
Female Common Eider, spotted 19 December 2016, first record for Bermuda. (photo by Andrew Dobson)

Free Ebook Shares Stories of Caribbean Waterbirds

Learn about Caribbean waterbirds and the habitats that they depend on.
Caribbean Waterbirds is a free ebook available for download at BirdsCaribbean.org.

From our coastlines and mangroves, to ponds, lakes and rivers, waterbirds are an ever-present part of Caribbean landscapes. They include our majestic seabirds, gregarious ducks, elegant egrets and a host of wading birds that make these islands a seasonal home. Learning the remarkable stories of some of these birds is easy with the release of Caribbean Waterbirds, a free ebook produced by BirdsCaribbean.

The ebook contains pieces by six authors, each revealing something different about these birds and the wetlands that sustain them. Learn how clever herons use tools, how waterbirds are found where they are least expected and how birds survive a hurricane. The book, illustrated with gorgeous photos, is a free download on our Resources page.

The timing of the ebook’s release coincides with the beginning of the eighth-annual Caribbean Waterbird Census. This census includes waterbird counts in over 100 locations on over a dozen islands. Although many are conducted by scientists and conservation groups, the census is designed so that anyone can participate.

The Caribbean is home to a wide variety of waterbirds, including both year-round residents and birds that travel thousands of miles to spend their winter here. Projects like the Caribbean Waterbird Census tell us how these birds are faring and what areas are most important to their survival. New discoveries are made every year.

The Caribbean Waterbird Census takes place each year between January 14th and February 3rd. You can learn more about it on the BirdsCaribbean website, or contact a local conservation group to find census activities on your island. Caribbean Waterbirds is available for free download in English, Spanish and French on our Resources page.

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