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Barbuda After Irma: A Devastated Landscape, A Proud People—and A Resilient Bird

The local school was extensively damaged with the roof completely gone (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)

On September 6th, 2017, a Category 5 hurricane named Irma made landfall on the tiny island of Barbuda, devastating homes, stripping the forest bare, and inundating parts of the island with seawater. We all looked on in shock as the way of life for many Barbudans was destroyed. We also feared another disaster was in the making.

Barbuda is the only home for the small Barbuda Warbler, a close relative of the Saint Lucia and Adelaide’s Warblers. Scientists and conservationists alike feared that Irma may have caused its extinction. Even if the birds survived the ravages of the wind and rain, the food they needed to survive (caterpillars and other insects) would be greatly reduced immediately following the storm. Hurricanes have triggered extinctions in the past, on much larger islands like Cozumel. There the endemic Cozumel Thrasher is now presumed extinct, following a series of hurricanes beginning with Gilbert.

Unsafe conditions and travel restrictions to Barbuda prevented an immediate population assessment but as soon as was possible, several members of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) of Antigua, under the guidance and support of the Department of Environment (DoE), visited Barbuda. The group confirmed that some warblers had survived. BirdsCaribbean, EAG, Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the DOE quickly teamed up to organize and carry out extensive surveys on Barbuda, to assess both the Barbuda Warbler and Yellow Warbler populations.

An Exciting Journey

Barbuda Warbler (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)
Barbuda Warbler (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)

On October 15, less than six weeks after the hurricane, a team of 6 left St John’s, Antigua by boat to cross the 40 miles to Codrington, Barbuda. High seas and heavy rain made it an interesting passage, but we arrived at the Codrington port to be greeted by the team from Guadeloupe: Anthony Levesque, Frantz Delcroix, and Eric Delcroix of Association AMAZONA, a conservation organization in Guadeloupe. They had just arrived by plane (read their story here) to conduct counts at the Magnificent Frigatebird Sanctuary. Though the stormy morning quickly turned to a bright, sunny day, our moods turned somber as we saw first-hand the extensive damage done by Irma. Many homes and businesses were completely destroyed, and rebuilding efforts by the handful of Barbudans on the island were only just beginning.

Our home for the next week was the DoE office in Barbuda, where we settled in, organized the surveys and made some last-minute refinements to the distance sampling protocol for data collection. We conducted observer training for the team members and field tested the protocol, which included a playback of Yellow and Adelaide’s Warbler calls. The Barbuda Warbler is very closely related, and was once considered the same species as the Adelaide’s Warbler of the Greater Antilles and the Saint Lucia Warbler. Recent genetic studies have confirmed that these three should be treated as distinct species, though their vocalizations are very similar. The field test, made on the edge of town, was a success and we recorded our first Barbuda and Yellow Warblers, along with a number of migratory shorebirds.

An International Team Gets to Work

Part of the international team that surveyed the warblers, left to right: Sophia Steele, Jeff Gerbracht, Lenn Isidore, Frank Rivera-Milan and Shanna Challenger.
Part of the team that surveyed the warblers, left to right: Sophia Steele, Jeff Gerbracht, Lenn Isidore, Frank Rivera-Milan and Shanna Challenger.

Shortly after sunrise the following day, the two teams of three observers began the survey with a mixture of excitement, hope and dread. Frank Rivera-Milan (US Fish and Wildlife Service) was joined by Kelvin ‘Biggz’ Samuel and Dwayne Philip (Antigua Forestry Unit). Jeff Gerbracht (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) joined Lenn Isidore, (Saint Lucia Projects Coordinator for FFI) and Rudolph Zachariah (Antigua Department of Environment). Nearly as important as the current population assessment was providing that the training and resources to DOE and EAG staff, to ensure that the Barbuda Warbler population can be monitored long term. To this end, we were also joined by Sophia Steele (Fauna & Flora International) and Shanna Challenger (EAG, DOE and FFI), to learn about the methodology and gain the necessary field experience. That first morning both teams observed Barbuda Warblers and Yellow Warblers while surveying 19 points. It was a great start but still a long way to go.

Male Yellow Warbler (migrant) (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)
Male Yellow Warbler (migrant) (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)

Barbuda has about 62 square miles of land and prior to our arrival, Population Ecologist and team member Frank had randomly selected the survey points, which were loaded into our GPS units. Points were at least 400 meters apart. Each team was tasked with covering as many points as possible before late morning arrived, when the warblers became quiet and harder to observe. A typical survey consisted of walking from point to point, covering up to eight miles in a morning. At each point, the team would divide up the tasks. One person would categorize the habitat, food availability and disturbance at each site, while the others would look and listen for Barbuda Warblers. Each observation of a warbler was recorded, along with the distance and direction from the point to each individual bird. “Barbuda Warbler singing between 20 – 30 meters at 110 degrees from North” or “Yellow Warbler seen at 18 meters distance, 35 degrees”. All observations were recorded in detail so that detection probability, occupancy and abundance (density and population size) could be modeled and estimated as precisely and accurately as possible.

Nature is Resilient, But There’s Some Way to Go

One of the survey points deep in the highlands where the forest is green and vibrant with flowers beginning to open (Photo by Lenn Isidore)

During that first morning of surveys, we were all struck by the resiliency of the natural world and how the forests of Barbuda were so well adapted to hurricanes. Weeks earlier the forests had been stripped bare of all greenery; yet the forest was already recovering. Amidst the broken branches and downed trees, life was returning with a vengeance. Trees and shrubs had already put out new leaves and in some cases, flowers and even fruit were in evidence. In addition to the ever-present mosquitoes, we saw lots of other insects and caterpillars, i.e. warbler food. The forest seemed green and alive, in sharp contrast to how it must have appeared just a few weeks earlier.

Lowland forest heavily impacted by the storm surge with little sign of recovery on the south of Barbuda (Photo by Jeff Gerbract)
Lowland forest heavily impacted by the storm surge with little sign of recovery on the south of Barbuda (Photo by Jeff Gerbract)

 

 

Unfortunately, other parts of the island weren’t faring nearly as well as the interior. Lowlands on the south of the island were especially hard hit by the storm surge. The forest there was struggling to recover.

To cover as many points as possible, the two teams stayed in different parts of the island. Henry, our driver and guide for the week, made sure that the teams got to where we needed to be. Our daily routine was pretty much the same: Leave for the field early; cover as many points as possible by 10:30; hike back out of the bush to be met by Henry; a quick lunch in town followed by an hour of down time; then back in the field between 2:30 and 5:30. In the evenings, we would review the data collected during the day to make sure everything was in order.

Hopes for Beautiful Barbuda’s Sustainable Recovery

An emotional roller coaster is a good way to describe how I felt throughout the week. Each day we were reminded of the devastation left by the hurricane and the long road to recovery for the Barbudan families. And each day we observed firsthand how the forest is recovering and how well the Barbuda Warbler fared. Barbuda is an island with very little development and miles of natural scrub and forest. The land is communally owned so there are few signs of outside development and that community ownership is reflected in the pride Barbudans feel for their island. I can think of few places where there are still miles of beach or forest with no development or human habitation in sight. This is pristine habitat for the birds. It is also the perfect location for eco-tourism: not only birding, but caving, horseback riding, snorkeling and other pursuits. It’s a rare gem, and the expanse of untouched natural habitat has surely been key in the forest’s rapid recovery.

Dwayne Philip pondering the best route through the damage to our next survey point (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)
Dwayne Philip pondering the best route through the damage to our next survey point (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)

We had been given permission for one week to conduct these surveys. It came to a close all too soon. With 125 points surveyed once, and 37 points surveyed twice, 50 miles walked and 145 Barbuda Warblers detected, we felt that we had covered as much of the island as possible. Once the numbers are crunched and population models run, we will have a much better estimate of the Barbuda Warbler population (stay tuned!). However, the good news is that all evidence points to a population, which somehow survived Irma’s fiercest onslaught.

As we left the island, we also left part of ourselves there – literally, in the case of the mosquitos and sand flies! In our hearts, there was the sorrow – and also hope – we feel for the Barbudans, their way of life and the island’s natural ecosystems. As more and more of the Caribbean becomes dominated by resort developments, Barbuda is a wonderful and refreshing contrast; a place where the natural world is still evident in abundance. We wish Barbuda a steady, sustainable recovery that will benefit its people and where its beautiful natural habitat will continue to flourish.

By Jeff Gerbracht, lead architect and software engineer at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and co-chair of the BirdsCaribbean Monitoring Working Group. Jeff has assisted Birdscaribbean for many years with eBird Caribbean, and monitoring and training workshops throughout the region.

Frank, Lenn and Jeff would especially like to thank the many individuals who made this population assessment possible, several of whom were also trying to rebuild their own lives on Barbuda:

  • Kelly Burton and Henry Griffin for ensuring our stay on Barbuda was as comfortable and productive as possible; Wanda for the excellent lunches; and Len Mussington for the exciting boat ride from Antigua to Barbuda.
Lenn Isidore looking out over the coastal scrub near Two Foot Bay (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)
Lenn Isidore looking out over the coastal scrub near Two Foot Bay (Photo by Jeff Gerbracht)

We also thank EAG, DOE, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Fauna and Flora International and BirdsCaribbean for their practical support, including the following individuals:

  • Shanna Challenger and Sophia Steele of Fauna & Flora International/EAG;
  • Rudolph Zachariah of the Department of Environment, Antigua;
  • Kelvin Samuel and Dwayne Philip of the Antigua Forestry Unit;
  • Sasha-gay Middleton of the Department of Environment for organizing our meals;
  • Matt Young of the Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology for putting together the warbler playback; and
  • Special thanks to Natalya Lawrence of EAG and Dr. Helena Jeffery Brown and Ruleta Camacho Thomas of the Department of Environment, for organizing so many of the necessary logistics.

BirdsCaribbean is grateful to all that have donated so generously to our ongoing fundraising effort for hurricane relief for our partners and beloved birds that has allowed us to send nectar feeders and bird seed to 13 islands and help our partners with surveys, replacing equipment lost in the storm, and other recovery actions.

Hover over each photo to see the caption; click on photos to see larger images and a slide show.

 

Bird Species Observed on Barbuda (54)

  • White-cheeked Pintail – Anas bahamensis
  • Helmeted Guineafowl – Numida meleagris
  • Magnificent Frigatebird – Fregata magnificens
  • Brown Booby – Sula leucogaster
  • Brown Pelican – Pelecanus occidentalis
  • Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
  • Green Heron – Butorides virescens
  • Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
  • American Oystercatcher – Haematopus palliatus
  • Black-bellied Plover – Pluvialis squatarola
  • American Golden-Plover – Pluvialis dominica
  • Semipalmated Plover – Charadrius semipalmatus
  • Whimbrel – Numenius phaeopus
  • Ruddy Turnstone – Arenaria interpres
  • Stilt Sandpiper – Calidris himantopus
  • Sanderling – Calidris alba
  • Least Sandpiper – Calidris minutilla
  • White-rumped Sandpiper – Calidris fuscicollis
  • Pectoral Sandpiper – Calidris melanotos
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper – Calidris pusilla
  • Long-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus scolopaceus
  • Spotted Sandpiper – Actitis macularius
  • Greater Yellowlegs – Tringa melanoleuca
  • Willet – Tringa semipalmata
  • Lesser Yellowlegs – Tringa flavipes
  • Lesser Black-backed Gull – Larus fuscus
  • Royal Tern – Thalasseus maximus
  • Least Tern – Sternula antillarum
  • Scaly-naped Pigeon – Patagioenas squamosa
  • White-crowned Pigeon – Patagioenas leucocephala
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove – Streptopelia decaocto
  • Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerina
  • White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica
  • Zenaida Dove – Zenaida aurita
  • Mangrove Cuckoo – Coccyzus minor
  • Antillean Crested Hummingbird – Orthorhyncus cristatus
  • Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
  • American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
  • Caribbean Elaenia – Elaenia martinica
  • Lesser Antillean Flycatcher – Myiarchus oberi
  • Gray Kingbird – Tyrannus dominicensis
  • Black-whiskered Vireo – Vireo altiloquus
  • Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica
  • Scaly-breasted Thrasher – Allenia fusca
  • Pearly-eyed Thrasher – Margarops fuscatus
  • American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
  • Tennessee Warbler – Oreothlypis peregrina
  • Yellow Warbler – Setophaga petechia
  • Blackpoll Warbler – Setophaga striata
  • Barbuda Warbler – Setophaga subita
  • Bananaquit – Coereba flaveola
  • Black-faced Grassquit – Tiaris bicolor
  • Lesser Antillean Bullfinch – Loxigilla noctis
  • Bobolink – Dolichonyx oryzivorus
  • Carib Grackle – Quiscalus lugubris

Read more about the hurricane impacts on Caribbean birds:

#BarbudaStrong—Guadeloupe Bird Survey Team Plays Good Neighbors following Hurricane Irma

Bird Dispatches from the Hurricane Front Lines

Good news! Conservationists Excited to Find Surviving Barbuda Warblers on Devastated Island

After the Storm

#BarbudaStrong—Guadeloupe Bird Survey Team Plays Good Neighbors following Hurricane Irma

All of us at BirdsCaribbean followed the passing of Hurricane Irma with terror, for the people of Barbuda, and also for its birds. Such is the strength of our community that BirdsCaribbean members from nearby Guadeloupe – Anthony Levesque, Frantz Delcroix, and Eric Delcroix – all members of the organization AMAZONA, offered their help in surveying their neighboring island, alongside a team of ornithologists from the United States, Saint Lucia, and Antigua. Here’s Frantz’s story of their 10-hour expedition to Barbuda.

From Guadeloupe to Barbuda: Our Eventful Journey

Eric Delcroix, avid birder from Guadeloupe and Frantz’s husband, stands in front of the Piper PA28 airplane before take-off (Photo by Anthony Levesque)
Eric Delcroix, avid birder from Guadeloupe and Frantz’s husband, stands in front of the Piper PA28 airplane before take-off (Photo by Anthony Levesque)

The start of our day was scheduled for Sunday, October 15, 2017, around 6:30am. Our transport was a small Piper PA28 airplane, with a capacity of 4 people (the pilot and three passengers). The plane was sturdy enough to transport us, our field equipment, a cooler, and our boots! Despite bad weather for several days—an active tropical wave passing by Guadeloupe and Antigua and Barbuda—our pilot assured us that we could travel. Just before leaving, however, our pilot learned that due to cloud cover, the airport in Antigua (where we had to land first) was closed to all VFR (visual flight rules) flights, and was accepting only flights that can fly under IFR (instrument flight rules). Fortunately, we chose the right pilot; his plane was equipped and certified for this kind of flight!

We took off at 6:50am, landing in Antigua around 8:00am. It was a longer flight than we had anticipated, because we were flying under IFR. After passing through immigration, we went to the control tower to validate the flight plan to Barbuda. As we suspected, we had trouble with the fact that we did not have written authorization to travel to the island. Luckily, with the help of the Department of Environment in Antigua, we had taken the precaution of obtaining the necessary contact information for the authority, Major Michael, in Antigua. After a short discussion, the agent agreed to call the Major, and so was able to validate our flight plan to Barbuda. With a sigh of relief, we took off from Antigua around 9:00am and arrived in Barbuda twenty minutes later.

On Barbuda: The Birds’ Message of Hope

The boat captain (in the back), the airplane pilot, Frantz Delcroix, and Anthony Levesque as they set out for Codrington Lagoon (Photo by Eric Delcroix)
The boat captain, Kelly, (standing), left to right – the airplane pilot, Hervé Pennel, Frantz Delcroix, and Anthony Levesque as they set out for Codrington Lagoon (Photo by Eric Delcroix)

Upon arrival we made our first survey: a few Barn Swallows and a Bank Swallow circled above us and an American Golden Plover wandered around the airport parking lot. We were then greeted by an agent from the airfield, who kindly took us to the port where the rest of the team has just arrived by boat. There we met Jeff Gerbracht (Cornell Lab of Ornithology, USA), Frank Rivera (US Fish and Wildlife Service, USA), Lenn Isidore (Flora and Fauna International, St. Lucia), and others and went to the house that served as home base during our trip, as we did some birding around the neighborhood. Jeff, Frank, and Lenn planned to be in Barbuda for a full week to do an intensive survey of the Barbuda Warbler population (stay tuned for their story!). Our assignment was to visit Codrington Lagoon and carry out a survey of the Magnificent Frigatebirds, to see how the population and sanctuary was recovering six weeks after Hurricane Irma hit. We departed at 11:15am for Codrington Lagoon with our boat captain Kelly – and our pilot (who wanted to discover the avifauna of Barbuda with us!)

Male Magnificent Frigatebirds courting and in flight at the colony Codrington Lagoon. (Photo by Eric Delcroix)
Male Magnificent Frigatebirds courting and in flight at the colony Codrington Lagoon. (Photo by Eric Delcroix)

We arrived at the colony at 11:30am and were delighted to see hundreds of frigatebirds in flight, the bare and brown bushes adorned with bright red gular pouches. Within a 4.5 hectare (11.12 acre) area, we estimated 1,710 Magnificent Frigatebirds and 17 Brown Boobies. In a count of seven bushes of 279 frigatebirds, 83 females (30%) and 196 males (70%) were counted. Amazingly, 90% of the females were on nests and some of the birds were observed courting and mating, even males carrying nest materials.

We returned to home base around 12:30pm for a lunch break and then went back to the field. Having no vehicle available, we decided to visit a nearby pond we had observed on the Barbuda map, to search for West Indian Whistling-Ducks and other waterbirds. Along the way, we made several surveys of the species present. In a scrubby area near town, we spotted our first Barbuda Warblers eating caterpillars! The warblers were active and responded readily to our “pishing.”

A Barbuda Warbler alive and well! (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)
A Barbuda Warbler alive and well! (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)

Around the pond, we recorded two Lesser Antillean Flycatchers, two Long-billed Dowitchers, a Stilt Sandpiper, some Semipalmated Sandpipers, a Solitary Sandpiper, and a Scaly-breasted Thrasher. Unfortunately, no West Indian Whistling-Ducks were seen.

We continued our surveys until around 2:45pm before returning to home base to pick up our belongings and walk to the airfield for our 3:45pm takeoff. Skirting some clouds along the way, we arrived home in Guadeloupe at 4:20pm with a list of 36 surveyed species in hand.

Our Hearts are with the People of Barbuda

Complete destruction of a home in Barbuda (Photo by Eric Delcroix)
Complete destruction of a home in Barbuda (Photo by Eric Delcroix)

Although we were there to conduct a birding survey, our hearts ached when we saw all the damage on Barbuda. Such utter desolation! We felt anguish and sadness for the people of Barbuda, who lost everything in this category 5 hurricane and are now living in Antigua awaiting word on when they can return home and rebuild. Witnessing the power of nature—its ability to inflict such damage, but also how it can quickly rebound—was an extraordinary experience.

Before the hurricane, the 4,000–5,000-strong frigatebird colony had chicks in the nest. Surveys just after the hurricane found no surviving chicks and only around 300 birds. Now, one and a half months later, there are more than 1,700 frigatebirds starting a new breeding period with almost all of the females nesting! Even the mangroves that suffered from salt burn and had lost all their leaves were bouncing back, beginning to sprout new leaves.

Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Boobies in Codrington Lagoon (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)
Magnificent Frigatebirds and Brown Boobies in Codrington Lagoon (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)

So, we did not leave without hope. Nature is resilient! It can destroy almost everything, and yet incredibly allow a bird that weighs only ten grams to survive!

We thank all of our partners and friends from Antigua and Barbuda and BirdsCaribbean for trusting us and for providing funding and support for our survey, despite the challenges and the relatively short time we had to mobilize. We extend a special thanks to Natalya Lawrence of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) in Antigua and Lisa Sorenson of BirdsCaribbean

Frantz Delcroix is the President of AMAZONA, a bird conservation organization in Guadeloupe. She is an avid birder, photographer and conservationist. Thanks to all who donated to our Hurricane Relief Fund which provided funding for this survey. Thanks also to support from the Environmental Awareness Group and Dept of Environment in Antigua, and Fauna and Flora International.

Hover over each photo to see the caption; click on photos to see larger images and a slide show.

 

Female Magnificent Frigatebird nesting on bare mangroves. (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)
Female Magnificent Frigatebird nesting on bare mangroves. (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)

List of birds seen or heard on this day (all have been entered in eBird Caribbean)

  • Helmeted Guineafowl – Numida meleagris
  • Magnificent Frigatebird – Fregata magnificens
  • Brown Booby – Sula leucogaster
  • Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
  • American Golden-Plover – Pluvialis dominica
  • Semipalmated Plover – Charadrius semipalmatus
  • Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
  • Stilt Sandpiper – Calidris himantopus
  • Pectoral Sandpiper – Calidris melanotos
  • Semipalmated Sandpiper – Calidris pusilla
  • Long-billed Dowitcher – Limnodromus scolopaceus
  • Solitary Sandpiper – Tringa solitaria
  • Lesser Yellowlegs – Tringa flavipes
  • Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
  • White-crowned Pigeon – Patagioenas leucocephala
  • Eurasian Collared-Dove – Streptopelia decaocto
  • Common Ground-Dove – Columbina passerine
  • Brown Booby at the frigatebird colony. (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)

      Brown Booby at the frigatebird colony. (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)

    White-winged Dove – Zenaida asiatica

  • Zenaida Dove – Zenaida aurita
  • Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
  • Caribbean Elaenia – Elaenia martinica
  • Lesser Antillean Flycatcher – Myiarchus oberi
  • Gray Kingbird – Tyrannus dominicensis
  • Black-whiskered Vireo – Vireo altiloquus
  • Bank Swallow – Riparia riparia
  • Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica
  • Scaly-breasted Thrasher – Allenia fusca
  • Pearly-eyed Thrasher – Margarops fuscatus
  • American Redstart – Setophaga ruticilla
  • Yellow Warbler – Setophaga petechia
  • Blackpoll Warbler – Setophaga striata
  • Barbuda Warbler – Setophaga subita
  • Bananaquit – Coereba flaveola
  • Black-faced Grassquit – Tiaris bicolor
  • Lesser Antillean Bullfinch – Loxigilla noctis
  • Carib Grackle – Quiscalus lugubris

Read more about the hurricane impacts on Caribbean birds:

Bird Dispatches from the Hurricane Front Lines

Good news! Conservationists Excited to Find Surviving Barbuda Warblers on Devastated Island

After the Storm

On the plane, heading home to Guadeloupe. (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)
On the plane, heading home to Guadeloupe. (Photo by Frantz Delcroix)

Meet the Superspecies of Parrots: Yellow-crowned Amazon (Amazona ochrocephala)

The Yellow-crowned Amazon is part of a superspecies of similar, closely related Parrots. (Photo by Faraaz Abdool)
The Yellow-crowned Amazon belongs to a superspecies of similar, closely related parrots. (Photo by Faraaz Abdool)

Many comic book characters we know and love today can be identified by their signature symbols. In the blink of an eye we can recognize the S of Superman’s shield or the beaming light of the Batman logo when Gotham City needs the Dark Knight to fight its villains. Likewise, when many Trinidadians see a parrot with bright yellow on the head they immediately identify it using  the local name, “Venez” Parrot. But few people know that this bird belongs to a superspecies group of Amazon Parrots (genus Amazona) comprising 11 subspecies. A superspecies is a species complex of closely related, very similar species that are often difficult to distinguish. The subspecies are categorized into three groups: 1) Yellow-crowned or ochrocephala 2) Yellow-naped or auropalliata and 3) Yellow-headed or oratrix.

Amazona ochrocephala ochrocephala, the Yellow-crowned Parrot, known locally as the Yellow-crowned Amazon (or Venez Parrot) found on Trinidad belongs to the – you guessed it – “Ochrocephala” group. It was possibly introduced from Venezuela or Guyana but its distribution extends into Colombia, Brazil, Suriname and French Guiana. This medium-sized Amazon weighs about 500 grams with primarily green plumage, a yellow forecrown and white eye-ring. Look carefully and you will see that the bend of the wing and base of the tail are both red. These traits are used to distinguish it from the ever present and ever noisy Orange-winged Parrots (Amazona amazonica). If you can’t get an up-close look at the parrot listen for its call which is a distinctive mellow, rolling bow-wow; this is in contrast to the shrill kik-kik…kik-kik calls of the Orange-winged Parrots.

Yellow-crowned:

Orange-winged:

Like most other parrots, Yellow-crowned Amazons are monogamous and prefer to nest in hollow trees or palms. While other Amazons choose their nesting cavities based on tree species, cavity height from the ground and cavity entrance size, Yellow-crowned Amazons tend not to have a preference for a specific tree species but do require trees in good condition. Because pairs maintain their nesting territories throughout the year, things can get really loud if a  bird or pair tries to take over another pair’s nest or even if a neighbour oversteps his boundary. Yellow-crowned Amazons are very aggressive and coordinated in defending their nests. The nesting pair will vocalize while perched next to each other or physically attack an intruder by lunging with beak open and wings extended.

A human archnemesis

The Yellow-crowned Amazon is locally known in Trinidad as the Venez Parrot. (Photo by Lester James)
The Yellow-crowned Amazon is locally known in Trinidad as the Venez Parrot. (Photo by Lester James)

If Yellow-crowned Parrots and their superspecies are superheroes of the bird world, then poaching of juveniles can be considered the population’s kryptonite. Fledglings over 40 days old are commonly taken from the wild though some poachers remove nestlings from the cavity when they are as young as three days old. Removing young birds from the wild is as bad for the population as it is for the individual birds. The young parrots are taken before they have reached sexual maturity and therefore, the current breeding pool of adults is not being expanded or replaced.

One reason Yellow-crowned Amazons are so popular for the pet trade is their ability to mimic human speech quickly. Because they are so desirable, some poachers in Central America dye the forecrown feathers of Red-lored Amazons (A. autumnalis) and Brown-throated Parakeets (Aratinnga pertinax) yellow and sell them as Yellow-crowneds to unsuspecting customers. Currently, Yellow-crowned Parrots are considered Least Concern by IUCN due to their wide geographic distribution and estimated healthy population size. However, the combination of habitat loss, their low reproductive rate, and poaching for the pet trade remains a major concern.

Vocalizations: an unsung hero

A Yellow-crowned Amazon pair preening in Trinidad. (Photo by Richard Lakhan)
A Yellow-crowned Amazon pair preening in Trinidad. (Photo by Richard Lakhan)

Even I would admit that hearing a parrot “talk” is very entertaining and amusing. However in the wild they use their own dialect with each other and their communication is not limited to repeating the calls of one or a few parrots. Yellow-crowned Amazons use syntax to arrange the structure of calls including those used in territorial disputes. It is plausible that by using syntax, communication among parrots is more flexible than we think. In addition, dialect through duets is used to woo potential mates and successfully reproduce. Males and females have sex-specific notes. These serve to tell the caller’s sex, availability to pair (i.e., spoken for or not) and to facilitate communication with multiple interested parrots . Yes, all is fair in love and war, even for parrots.

Other vocalizations, like contact calls, are used to maintain order within flocks to achieve common goals such as finding food or avoiding predators. Just imagine how little justice would get served if the members of the Justice League were unable to create a strategy to fight their enemies because they didn’t understand each other! Interestingly contact calls may also serve to ascertain a parrot’s regional identity. A survey of 16 Amazon roosting sites in North and South Costa Rica,  18 miles apart, revealed that each region had a distinct type of call.  Researchers found that neighbouring roosts within a region shared a common call type and in each roost a single call type was recorded resulting in the mosaic pattern typical of vocal dialects in humans.

When Yellow-crowned Amazons are kept as pets and taught to repeat silly phrases, we undermine so much of their intelligence and even their identity. Out of the cage they speak their own language, one that takes years to develop and runs much deeper than “Hello” or “Who’s a pretty bird?” In order for this beautiful, complex superspecies to thrive in the wild, we all need to be local superheroes and take a stand against wildlife poaching.

How can you help parrots in the wild?

The Blue and Gold Project recently launched their fundraising campaign to protect the Blue and Gold Macaw in Trinidad. This large, charismatic bird was extirpated from the island in the 1960s. A reintroduction program began in 1999, and after several releases, there is a small, stable population with documented breeding success. The Blue and Gold Project is raising funds to host local capacity building workshops to educate community members about wild macaws and the pet trade, monitor the illegal trade of macaws, and conduct much-needed research on the wild reintroduced population. Please donate today!

Aliya Hosein is a 2017 CLiC (Conservation Leadership in the Caribbean) Fellow working on a Blue and Gold Macaw Conservation Project on her home island of Trinidad. She believes that parrots are so colourful and boisterous that without them forests, savannas and swamps would be dull.

 

Birding Tours of Cuba in 2018 from BirdsCaribbean

Cuban Tody—one of Cuba's most beloved endemic birds. (photo by Aslam Ibrahim)
Colorful and friendly, the Cuban Tody is one of Cuba’s most beloved endemic birds. (photo by Aslam Ibrahim)

Join BirdsCaribbean, the Caribbean Birding Trail and acclaimed Cuban bird guide, Ernesto Reyes Mouriño, on the adventure of a lifetime in January or March of 2018.

Cuba is well-known for its amazing landscapes, vibrant culture and unique biodiversity. According to the new Endemic Birds of Cuba: A Comprehensive Field Guide, 371 birds have been recorded in Cuba, including 26 which are endemic to the island and 30 which are considered globally threatened. Due to its large land area and geographical position within the Caribbean, Cuba is also extraordinarily important for Neotropical migratory birds—more than 180 species pass through during migration or spend the winter on the island.

Our itinerary takes you to several of the best and most beautiful birding locations in Cuba, providing opportunities to see many of Cuba’s endemic species and subspecies as well as many migrants. Along the way, we will meet  people in local communities, stay mainly in Bed & Breakfast establishments (casas particulares) and eat in private restaurants (paladars), allowing you to experience Cuba’s rich culture, delicious food, friendly people, and generous hospitality. We will also have the opportunity to meet and  have discussions with local ornithologists and conservationists that have been working with BirdsCaribbean for many years.

BirdsCaribbean is offering two tours in 2018: an 8-day trip in January and an 11-day trip in March. Find detailed itineraries for both trips below. Traveling with us helps Caribbean birds as a portion of the proceeds from the trip supports our bird conservation programs and partners in Cuba and the Caribbean. See some of the world’s most beautiful and memorable birds, knowing you are helping ensure their welfare by supporting the people who study and protect them.

Space is limited so sign up now to reserve your spot!

Check out the report and photos from our January 2016 trip here and from our July 2017 trip to Havana and Zapata Swamp here. See trip reviews below. Purchase the new Endemic Birds of Cuba Field Guide here.

NOTE: The recent policy changes in the Cuban Assets Control Regulations do not affect BirdsCaribbean’s birding trips or the requirements of US citizens traveling with us. Their birding trips consist of group travel under the general license that authorizes travel transactions that support the Cuban people (also known as the people-to-people general license.)  The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) requires that (1) all people-to-people travel be conducted under the auspices of an organization that is subject to U.S. jurisdiction and that sponsors such exchanges to promote people-to-people contact (BirdsCaribbean), and (2) such travelers be accompanied by a person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who is a representative of the sponsoring organization (the BirdsCaribbean trip leaders). While you are on the trip, BirdsCaribbean will ensure that you have a full-time schedule of activities that engage private citizens (e.g., local guides, Cuban biologists, private business owners), and avoid transactions with the State Department’s List of Restricted Entities and Subentities Associated with Cuba (“the Cuba Restricted List”).

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Bird Dispatches from the Hurricane Front Lines

A very damaged native Gaïac tree (Lignum vitae) in Grand Case, St. Martin is already sprouting hopeful shoots after Irma. Partners observe that native trees may be more resilient than invasive or imported species that have been decimated in the storms. Green is already appearing on the hillsides. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)
A very damaged native Gaïac tree (Lignum vitae) in Grand Case, St. Martin is already sprouting hopeful shoots after Irma. Partners observe that native trees may be more resilient than invasive or imported species that have been decimated in the storms. Green is already appearing on the hillsides. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

It has been an exhausting few weeks for many of BirdsCaribbean’s partners across the region. The hurricane season is not over for another two months, but Caribbean conservationists are hoping for a break. BirdsCaribbean and its wonderful supporters across the region are doing their best to keep up with a variety of urgent needs, from shipping hummingbird feeders for starving birds to organizing assessments and surveys. There is a lot of work to be done, but teamwork and partnerships are making the difference.

We at BirdsCaribbean extend our heartfelt thanks to all those who have donated towards the crowdfunding campaign so far. Your support means so much to us, as we try to help all our dedicated and hard-working partners get back on their feet after this unprecedented series of disasters. We assure you that the funds will be put to good use, and we will never forget the outpouring of kindness and generosity from folks near and far. It is quite humbling!

Time has passed slowly since the passage of Irma and Maria, and we have been extremely anxious for news from the islands most badly affected. Here are some updates on the bird populations. It is a very mixed picture, so far, so be prepared for good news, but some “not so good”:

BARBUDA

After the storm: A group of around 20 Magnificent Frigatebirds on a small island of "burned" mangrove in Codrington Lagoon, photographed on September 22. (Photo by Sophia Steele)
After the storm: A group of around 20 Magnificent Frigatebirds on a small island of “burned” mangrove in Codrington Lagoon, photographed on September 22. (Photo by Sophia Steele)

During their visit to the devastated island of Barbuda on September 22, the Environmental Awareness Group’s Andrea Otto and Junior Prosper were thrilled to count eight endemic Barbuda Warblers that had miraculously survived the fierce onslaught of Hurricane Irma – alongside Yellow Warblers. BirdsCaribbean is assisting with intensive surveys in mid-October to assess the population size and actions that can be taken in the short and long term to help the bird.

At Codrington Lagoon – home to the largest colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds in the Caribbean – the team was stunned, however, to find just one small group of 30 adult birds perched on a dead mangrove bush, instead of the usual thriving colony of 4,000 and 5,000 birds in the Sanctuary. The Antiguan team counted about 325 birds soaring in the air above the lagoon. We don’t know yet what has happened to all the other birds. Known as “Weather Birds,” frigatebirds will fly out before the storm hits, so hopefully they are still alive. There were juveniles in the colony not yet able to fly, however. They are known to climb deep into the mangroves and wait out storms, however, no young birds have been spotted. They most likely perished in the storm.

Happier times: The colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds - the largest in the hemisphere - flourishing on the Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda before the storms. (Photo by Karron James)
Happier times: The colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds – the largest in the hemisphere – flourishing on the Codrington Lagoon, Barbuda before the storms. (Photo by Karron James)

Otto described the Red Mangrove habitat of the lagoon as “burnt”—there was almost no remaining foliage. “Normally, the mangroves are so dense, lush and green that you have to crane your neck to see between and beyond them, and they are loaded with birds,” said Otto. “Now we could easily see for long distances into the sanctuary.” The trees that remained were shorter and stripped bare. The Barbudans with the team said they “barely recognized the landscape.”

The recovery of the lagoon’s mangroves is of grave concern. The Magnificent Frigatebird, considered one of the most threatened seabirds in the Caribbean, depends on mangroves to nest and roost at night. The sanctuary, which is well managed by the local community and patrolled by wardens, provides critical habitat for this species. It also provides sustainable livelihoods for local bird and nature guides that take people into the sanctuary by boat to witness the spectacular site and sound of frigatebird courtship—males puffing out their red neck pouches and drumming on them to attract a mate.

On Barbuda, the team found most large trees had been uprooted or broken. Trees and shrubs had no green or live leaves and there was “not even grass,” reported Junior Prosper. In other wetland areas on Barbuda, Willets, Brown Pelicans, Green Herons, Lesser Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpipers, as well as Eurasian Collared Dove and a few Pearly-eyed Thrashers were seen. However, no West Indian Whistling-Ducks, a threatened regional endemic were spotted. An intensive survey effort will take place over the next several weeks.

What are the Barbuda Warbler’s prospects for survival? As with many other species on all the islands, this post-hurricane period is a critical time for the birds, because of the shortage of food. My fear now is that with vegetation largely stripped of leaves, as photos indicate, insect food will be very hard to come by in the coming weeks. I fear more birds may be lost from food shortage post-hurricane than in the storm itself,” observes Tony Diamond (University of New Brunswick), who together with his graduate students has studied the warbler and frigatebirds. BirdsCaribbean will be working with EAG to look at habitat restoration actions that can be taken for the warbler and the frigatebirds.

In the sister island of Antigua, hummingbirds were “highly stressed” after the storms, according to Facebook posts. The Purple-throated Carib descended from upland forests to feed around towns and homes. In their normal habitats, flowers, fruits and insects are gone, and they have also lost secure space and even other members of their species, it was noted.

BAHAMAS

West Indian flamingos feeding in Inagua, the Bahamas. (Photo by the Bahamas National Trust)
West Indian flamingos feeding in Inagua, the Bahamas. (Photo by the Bahamas National Trust)

In the Bahamas, which fortunately did not bear the full brunt of the storms on all its many scattered islands – bird species appear to have been moving around quite a bit. The Bahamas National Trust (BNT), a key BirdsCaribbean partner, is on the lookout for Cuban Parrots (Bahama subspecies), which have been “conspicuously absent” from the eastern end of New Providence since Hurricane Irma. They may have moved temporarily elsewhere. Those of us who live in the East have missed their early morning calls during their flyovers,” our BNT friends report. BNT Warden Randolph Burrows spotted over 100 parrots on the island of Great Inagua, which was hit hard by Hurricane Irma.  Residents were also delighted to welcome thousands of American Flamingos on September 14, following the passage of the hurricane. Inagua is home to a breeding colony of 50,000 flamingoes, but there is a question as to whether some of these birds may have been refugees from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. BNT Executive Director  Eric Carey, while happy to see the birds, observed: “Hurricanes such as Irma actually make us realize how much we do not know about our flamingos.”

CUBA

As for updates from our hard-working friends in Cuba, due to communication problems, we have received no further updates on the flamingo populations from the first report that thousands were killed in the storm. Nor have we learned how other endemic and rare species have fared such as the Zapata Sparrow and Zapata Wren.  The photos show, however, that habitats on the northern coast and cays were severely damaged with many mangroves and other trees uprooted and stripped of vegetation as in Barbuda. We will report as soon as we receive news, which we hope will be positive!

DOMINICA

The Imperial Amazon, national bird of Dominica. This is a Critically Endangered species and although captive birds are safe, there are concerns for those in the wild after Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Rare Species Conservatory Foundation)
The Imperial Amazon, national bird of Dominica. This is a Critically Endangered species and although captive birds are safe, there are concerns for those in the wild after Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Rare Species Conservatory Foundation)

The eye of Hurricane Maria passed directly over the tiny island of Dominica, which is still reeling from the impact. The port is not yet fully functional for ships. The normally lush, green country, known as the “nature isle” for its stunning and majestic mountainous landscape is barren and brown at the moment. Stephen Durand reported that the devastation is heartbreaking and they are taking it one day at a time.  The Forestry Office was severely damaged by the storm and all of its equipment looted. Several of our partners have lost their homes and there is a shortage of food and water in small, remote communities. Communications remain poor due to the mountainous terrain and the extent of damage to infrastructure, although aid is starting to come in via helicopter. Here there is great concern for the two endemic parrots – in particular the Critically Endangered Imperial Parrot (“Sisserou”)—only 400 of these are known to exist in the wild, with none breeding in captivity.

Lennox Honeychurch reported that he has seen some Red-necked Parrots (“Jaco”) flying around, even down to the coast…clearly disoriented, landing in the road looking for scraps of food. So they at least have survived. The fate of the Sisserou is as yet unknown. No one he has spoken to, even in the Carib territory, have seen any since Maria struck. Durand reports that a search for the Sisserou will begin today – we will share news as soon as it is available. While captive birds have survived, they also need food; a BirdsCaribbean member has taken over a small amount of parrot food, as well as bird feeders and powdered nectar for the hummingbird population.

GUADELOUPE

A rare visitor to Guadeloupe, this Ruff was spotted after the recent hurricanes. (Photo by Anthony Levesque)
A rare visitor to Guadeloupe, this Ruff was spotted after the recent hurricanes in the flooded swamp. (Photo by Anthony Levesque)

The island of Guadeloupe did not escape the wrath of the storms, receiving blows from both Irma and Maria and causing much damage to parks and protected areas. During an early survey on September 20, Anthony Levesque noted that the swamp areas were completely flooded. Just a few shorebirds were seen, including Great Egret, Semipalmated Plover, Ruff, Least Sandpiper, White-Rumped Sandpiper, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and also two Belted Kingfishers. The following morning, a Green-Throated Carib was seen “fighting against the wind…” Since then, more shorebird sightings have been recorded.

 

 

ST. EUSTATIUS

Before and after Irma: A mountain called the Quill on St. Eustatius, home to the Quail Dove, showing the destruction of habitat. (Photo by STENAPA)
Before and after Irma: A mountain called the Quill on St. Eustatius, home to the Quail Dove, showing the destruction of habitat. (Photo by STENAPA)

Although not badly impacted by the hurricanes, the small island of St. Eustatius (aka “Statia”) nevertheless suffered damage to many trees on the island and in the Quill/ Boven National Park, which includes the slopes of their dormant volcano, known as “The Quill.” The impacts on wildlife and ecosystems are not yet known. Hannah Madden is concerned about the impact on the endemic Bridled Quail-Dove population that she has been monitoring. BirdsCaribbean will fund an intensive survey of the dove next month. Hannah reports that they received some surprise visitors: A small flock of American Golden Plovers. This species has never been recorded on Statia before; they were likely blown off course by the hurricanes. Partners in other islands are also reporting vagrants and new species showing up – blown in or off course during migration from the hurricanes.

SINT MAARTEN

In Sint Maarten, conservationist Binkie van Es – who was himself made homeless by Hurricane Irma – reported that hummingbirds were of greatest concern, because of the lack of food. Binkie is excited to receive a shipment of 300 hummingbird feeders, on its way from BirdsCaribbean to Sint Maarten/St. Martin. These will be distributed to schools and homes across the island, with the assistance of Les Fruits de Mer and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC).  “I am afraid we lost half of our Brown Pelican population,” Binkie noted, while observing that White-cheeked Pintails appeared undisturbed. Barn Swallows, he noted, appeared to be displaced from their usual locations. Meanwhile, American Kestrels were finding happy hunting grounds, since the trees and bushes were stripped of leaves. Binkie notes: “Most regular shrubs and trees are sprouting already, but all mangroves took a terrible hit.” The mangrove habitats may take much longer to recover.

ST. MARTIN

A Purple-throated Carib hummingbird has been a regular visitor to feeders at Les Fruits de Mer. Usually they live at higher elevations so it is a rare sight on St. Martin. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)
A Purple-throated Carib hummingbird has been a regular visitor to feeders at Les Fruits de Mer. Usually they live at higher elevations so it is a rare sight on St. Martin. (Photo by Mark Yokoyama)

On the French side of the island, St. Martin, there was also huge damage to homes and infrastructure. Our partner organization, Les Fruits de Mer, also lost its museum building; fortunately, the contents were packed in a container for removal, so are safe. BirdsCaribbean’s Mark Yokoyama reports that he used ten pounds of sugar in two weeks, as hummingbird feeders he has set up are besieged with birds, including many Bananaquits, Green-throated Caribs, Antillean Crested Hummingbirds and others. Despite the storms’ impact, “hillsides are starting to green up,” our partners report and a few flowers (oleanders) are now blooming. EPIC reports that it will have a renewed focus and will be seeking funds for mangrove restoration in October; BirdsCaribbean will be assisting with these funds.

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

As vegetation recovers, hummingbird feeders such as this one at a residence in BVI are critical for bird survival.
As vegetation recovers, hummingbird feeders such as this one at a residence in BVI are critical for bird survival.

The British Virgin Islands were hard hit by both storms. Trees were stripped of leaves and many larger trees damaged or destroyed. The largest mangrove forest at Paraquita Bay was completely leafless. Elsewhere, small pockets of mangrove were already removed during the post-hurricane cleanup. This raises a general concern that the destruction of bird habitats, especially forested areas (already threatened in many places by development) may be accelerated by post-storm cleanups. A gas station may be built in their place, rather than the habitat being restored and replanted. “As usual, we try to save what’s left…” was the comment from Birdscaribbean member, Clive Petrovich, on Tortola – who also brought sad news that Bananaquit nests with eggs or young around his home were destroyed by the hurricanes, along with the foliage. He saw a few Bananaquits, and Pearly-Eyed Thrashers, Scaly-naped Pigeons, Kingbirds, Smooth-billed Anis and a few other species were spotted.

There are concerns here too for the hummingbird populations; some have been observed eating arthropods to survive. While bird numbers on Tortola have dropped dramatically, a number of trees (mahogany, sago palms) already have new leaves. Our partners in both the British and US Virgin Islands, which suffered similar devastation, are looking forward to receiving hummingbird feeders from BirdsCaribbean to help these nectar feeders survive during this period of severe food shortages.

PUERTO RICO

A Masked Booby killed by Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Ingrid Flores)
A Masked Booby killed by Hurricane Maria. (Photo by Ingrid Flores)

We are anxious to hear from our friends in Puerto Rico, and stand ready to assist in any way we can when communications are restored and their needs are established. Of particular concern is the Critically Endangered Puerto Rican Parrot.  Reduced population size due to hunting and capture for the pet trade, combined with habitat loss and fragmentation, make this species especially vulnerable to large scale natural disasters. Also of concern is the fate of a number of endemic species in PR following the storm, such as the Endangered Yellow-shouldered Blackbird, Critically Endangered Puerto Rican Nightjar and Vulnerable Elfin-woods Warbler.

 


What is BirdsCaribbean’s focus in the near and medium term following these terrible storms?

At the moment we are organizing shipments of hundreds of hummingbird feeders and bird seed to our partners on all the islands that have been impacted; several shipments are en route! We will be helping to fund post-hurricane surveys of Bridled Quail-doves in Statia this fall, and also the intensive surveys of the Barbuda Warbler and Magnificent Frigatebird that will take place in mid-October. We will be helping the Forestry Dept in Dominica to replace all their bird monitoring field equipment, including binoculars, spotting scopes, GPS units, backpacks, cameras, and more. We have also been topping up cell phones for our partners so that they can communicate, and anticipate that we will funding mangrove and habitat restoration projects.

Again, we are truly thankful to all that have donated so generously to our ongoing fundraising effort for hurricane relief for our partners and beloved birds that has allowed us to help with recovery actions. We particularly wish our partner Vermont Center for Ecostudies and Kevin Loughlin of Wildside Nature Tours, who are supporting us with a GoFundMe site of their own (please donate as all funds raised up to $10K are matched by Wildside!).

This has been an extremely difficult time for BirdsCaribbean partners, for the birds – and for the people of the Caribbean. However, the islands are resilient, and we are confident that, while it will be slow, a steady recovery is underway. In fact, as each day passes, the region is slowly getting back on its feet. We plan to bring further bird updates as more reports roll in! Stay tuned.

By Emma Lewis and Lisa Sorenson (thanks to all of our partners that have been sending us news and photos – please keep it coming and let us know your needs!)

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Good News! Conservationists Excited to Find Surviving Barbuda Warblers on Devastated Island

Warbler found! The first Barbuda Warbler spotted by Andrea Otto and Joseph Prosper of the Environmental Awareness Group on their survey trip to Barbuda on Sept. 22nd. No warblers were seen on the first survey trip to the island on Sept. 15th. (Photo by Andrea Otto.)
Warbler found! The first Barbuda Warbler spotted by Andrea Otto and Joseph Prosper of the Environmental Awareness Group on their survey trip to Barbuda on Sept. 22nd. No warblers were seen on the first survey trip to the island on Sept. 15th. (Photo by Andrea Otto.)

On Wednesday, September 6, Hurricane Irma engulfed the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda with 185 mph winds, leaving most of the population homeless and a landscape ravaged by wind and surging waves.

Since the storm passed, the Caribbean birding community has been increasingly anxious about one bird in particular: the endemic Barbuda Warbler, a Near Threatened Species. Had this charming little bird survived the storm?

Well, at last there is some good news. BirdsCaribbean is delighted to report that, during a one-day survey trip to Barbuda on September 22, a team from its Antiguan partner Environment Awareness Group (EAG) and the Department of the Environment discovered a total of eight Barbuda Warblers.

As the only endemic species on the island and country of Antigua and Barbuda, the Barbuda Warbler has a special place in the small community’s hearts. The bird has a perky posture and constantly flits around, searching for insects in trees, thorny scrub and coastal areas. Its estimated population is between 1,000 and 2,500, but before the hurricane its population trends were not determined.

The first bird was spotted by EAG’s Andrea Otto and colleague Junior Prosper in a fallen acacia tree. “I saw a flash of grey…” Otto reports. “I whispered to Junior – it’s a Barbuda Warbler!” They managed to get a good view and confirmation of the smart little warbler’s grey and yellow plumage. After that, “It took us a while to get a clear photograph of the bird as irrefutable proof of its survival,” notes Otto. The team recorded the birds in a relatively small area near the secondary school in Codrington, the main settlement on the island.

Joseph Prosper walking through town in Barbuda surveying the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma and searching for Barbuda Warblers. All residents have been temporarily evacuated. (photo by Andrea Otto).
Joseph Prosper walking through town in Barbuda surveying the catastrophic damage from Hurricane Irma and searching for Barbuda Warblers. All residents have been temporarily evacuated. (photo by Andrea Otto).

BirdsCaribbean is supporting the EAG and Department of Environment to conduct bird and wildlife surveys over the next five weeks. They are helping the team design a survey plan that will cover the habitat on the island and provide an estimate of the warbler’s population size. Ornithologists and other skilled birders in the region and beyond will assist with an intensive survey effort in the coming weeks and months. The team will also devise a plan to help the Barbuda Warbler and other wildlife on the island recover, such as replanting native trees and mangroves that were destroyed in the hurricane.

Editor’s Note: BirdsCaribbean has launched a fundraising effort for hurricane relief for our Caribbean partners and birds. All the funds will be distributed to bird conservation partners across the Greater and Lesser Antilles islands to help them get back on their feet and replace what was lost in the storm—from notebooks, materials and binoculars to offices and infrastructure. The Fund will also support field surveys to assess the status of endemic, resident and many migrant species, as well as recovery and habitat rehabilitation actions by our partners, such as planting native trees that feed birds and provide habitat. Sincere thanks to those that have donated already!

If you would like to donate to help the people of Barbuda rebuild their homes, schools and businesses following 90% destruction on the island, please click here.

Scarlet Ibis: A National Symbol Under Siege

The Scarlet Ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo by Faraaz Abdool)
The Scarlet Ibis is the national bird of Trinidad and Tobago. (Photo by Faraaz Abdool)

Flying low over the water and glowing brilliant red in the light of the setting sun, thousands of Scarlet Ibis quietly assemble at their roosting site. While the Tricolored Herons and bright white Snowy Egrets disappear into the cover of the mangroves, the Scarlet Ibis remain perched on top, dotting the dark green with intense bursts of red. To witness this spectacular ritual— a daily occurrence in the Caroni Swamp in Trinidad—is to experience one of the most extraordinary events in the natural world.

The Scarlet Ibis (Eudocimus ruber) is both culturally and economically important to the twin island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. When the country gained independence in 1962, it was fitting to declare the Scarlet Ibis as the national bird and it is featured prominently on the nation’s coat of arms and one dollar bill. Since at least the early 1970s, bird-watching ecotours in Caroni Swamp were generating over $1 million TTD annually. Today, the swamp and the ibis are internationally known as a “must-see” natural treasure, and the ecotourism industry continues to support the livelihoods of many Trinidadians.

Scarlet Ibis return to their roosting site after a day of foraging. (Photo by Jessica Rozek)
Scarlet Ibis return to their roosting site after a day of foraging. (Photo by Jessica Rozek)

Unfortunately, the Scarlet Ibis is also coveted for another reason: its meat. In an interview last month, the Chief Game Warden acknowledged that the bird is a black market delicacy illegally served at elite parties, driving the motivation for poaching. It has been speculated that eating the national bird is a status symbol. In 2013, a man with 18 ibis carcasses was sentenced to 18 months in prison (though he was allowed to serve them concurrently). And just this summer, three people were arrested in the possession of ibis carcasses and blasted on social media by Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries Minister Clarence Rambharat. His comments were widely shared and sparked dozens of newspaper articles, with the outraged public calling for action.

This image of poached Scarlet Ibis was shared on social media by Minister Clarence Rambharat in August 2017, resulting in public outrage. (Photo by Clarence Rambharat)
This image of poached Scarlet Ibis was shared on social media by Minister Clarence Rambharat in August 2017, resulting in public outrage. (Photo by Clarence Rambharat)

The national bird has a long history of persecution and is incredibly sensitive to disturbance. As early as the 1860s, colonial records warn that “a fierce war has been made on this bird…already it comes in fewer numbers and soon it will be very rare.” Other reports from the early 1930s and 1950s acknowledge that the Scarlet Ibis are “shot ruthlessly for food or so-called sport” and that they are very wary as a consequence. Richard ffrench, the neotropical ornithologist based in Trinidad, noted that in the beginning of the 20th century, hunting prevented the Scarlet Ibis from breeding on the island until 1953.

 

In 2013, poachers were caught with 18 dead Scarlet Ibis. (Photo by Rishi Ragoonath)
In 2013, poachers were caught with 18 dead Scarlet Ibis. (Photo by Rishi Ragoonath)

Currently, the fine for hunting or possessing the Scarlet Ibis is just $1,000 TTD (~$150 USD) or three months in prison. But due to the vast expanse of the Caroni Swamp and limited manpower, enforcement is difficult. In 2010, six individuals were fined $750 TT each for poaching offences that took place in 2007. Surprisingly, this marked the first time in the country’s history that someone was convicted of hunting the Scarlet Ibis.

Minister Rambharat has petitioned the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to initiate the process to change the designation of the Scarlet Ibis to an Environmentally Sensitive Species (ESS). Under this protected status, poachers could receive a maximum of a $100,000 TTD fine or up to two years imprisonment. An ESS status would also facilitate interagency and joint patrols in Caroni Swamp, increasing warden and police presence. In addition, the EMA is exploring changing the status of the Caroni Swamp to an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA). The swamp is already designated a Ramsar site (1993) and a Prohibited Area under the Forests Acts.

Young moko jumbie performers in Trinidad raise awareness about the plight of the Scarlet Ibis. (Photo by Alice Yard)
Young moko jumbie performers in Trinidad raise awareness about the plight of the Scarlet Ibis. (Photo by Alice Yard)

Even young Trinidadians are raising awareness about the poaching of the national bird. In August, 45 performers aged 9-17 years old from the Moko Jumbie Cultural Camp dressed as Scarlet Ibis and marched in the capital’s Queen’s Park Savannah. This Caribbean stilt-walking art form is common during carnival season, and the camp’s mission is to preserve this custom and create cultural legacies by engaging children. It was a fantastic idea to combine this unique cultural heritage with the natural heritage of the Scarlet Ibis! Click here to see the video.

What you can do to help:

  • Please spread the word that the EMA is requesting information (including observations), research, or data about the Scarlet Ibis to assist with changing its status to an ESS. Information can be submitted here.
  • The mandatory 30-day public comment period for the change in status to ESS will be announced shortly. Please check the EMA website or Facebook page for updates and send a letter in support of this change in protected status.

Please scroll over or click on the photos for captions

 

Jessica Rozek is a PhD student at Tufts University, where she is focusing her research on Caribbean wetland conservation and human-wetland-bird interactions.  Learn more about her research here.  

After the Storm

Take care of yourselves and, once you and your loved ones are safe, remember our birds and consider their plight.

Flooding caused by Hurricane Irma in Old Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Juvenal Balán)
Flooding caused by Hurricane Irma in Old Havana, Cuba. (Photo by Juvenal Balán)

There is no doubt that the landscape on some islands has already changed, perhaps irreversibly so, after the passage of the strongest hurricane on record in the Caribbean. The Codrington Lagoon on Barbuda, for example – a beautifully preserved RAMSAR site – is home to the largest colony of Magnificent Frigatebirds in the region (around 2,500 pairs). It was breached during the storm and the sea has flowed in. Barbuda itself is now a scene of devastation, with almost all buildings damaged or destroyed and most inhabitants evacuated. So, what of the endemic Barbuda Warbler, a small bird that is Near Threatened (likely less than 2,000 individuals) – did it survive?

Moreover, human activity is already contributing to the changing island landscape on a perhaps unprecedented level. Barbuda itself is the proposed site of a tourism development that has already triggered controversy because of its possible impact on its fragile environment. Other large tourism and housing developments, mining and other industrial activities and urbanization are all threatening bird habitats across the region. The unchecked over-development of the Houston area, which replaced wetlands and woodlands with concrete was a major contributing factor to the excessive flooding.

The Barbuda Warbler is endemic to the tiny island of Barbuda which was decimated by Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Ted Eubanks)
The Barbuda Warbler is endemic to the tiny island of Barbuda which was decimated by Hurricane Irma. (Photo by Ted Eubanks)

While discussion and research into the impact of climate change on tropical weather patterns (in particular, the link to hurricanes) continues, issues such as rising sea levels and warming seas are becoming increasingly evident in the Caribbean. All of these factors combined increase the chance that a single event like Hurricane Irma may cause a species, such as the Barbuda Warbler to go extinct.

Last year, we recorded the devastating impact of Hurricane Matthew on birds in the Bahamas and Haiti, in particular. We also noted that some species “bounce back” more quickly than others.  After the storm passes, those birds that survive face long-term problems. In the path of the storm, trees and shrubs lose all their leaves, buds, flowers and fruits. Trees (often the older, larger trees that provide food and shelter) may be uprooted. Riverbanks are scoured and whole neighborhoods transformed. In hills and mountains, there is the threat of landslides. Damage to reefs and seagrass beds may decrease marine productivity. Nesting beaches may be washed away. Birds may lose their nests, shelter and food. Others get displaced to new areas, where they may not thrive.

What happens to birds in a hurricane?

Casper Burrows, a Bahamas National Trust Park Warden on Great Inagua, home to 40,000+ breeding American Flamingos, was elated to spot resident flamingoes feeding just after Hurricane Irma roared through the island. The flamingos had taken shelter in the mangrove vegetation. (Photo by Casper Burrows)
Casper Burrows, a Bahamas National Trust Park Warden on Great Inagua, home to 40,000+ breeding American Flamingos, was elated to spot resident flamingoes feeding just after Hurricane Irma roared through the island. The flamingos had taken shelter in the mangrove vegetation. (Photo by Casper Burrows)

We know that many species can respond to the indicators that a storm is nearby, such as a drop in barometric pressure, changes in temperature, rainfall and light. In some species these changes trigger them to change location. The Bahamas National Trust notes that its flamingoes, for example, will fly away ahead of a storm and some seabirds on the wing will increase their altitude to try to get above the storm. Many other species respond to threats by trying to hunker down in safe places. Migratory birds may change their plans, and depart earlier than usual. Some very brave Whimbrels have even been recorded flying directly into a storm – for example, one  named Chinquapin, braved Hurricane Irene in 2011. Read more here.

During and just after the passage of Hurricane Irma, Bahamian flamingoes were spotted, sheltered by coastal forest and mangroves, in storm conditions on the island of Great Inagua; and Cuban Parrots (Bahamas subspecies) were seen feeding on guinep fruit off the trees, which had somehow managed to retain its fruits. Some birds are true survivors, but with such a large and powerful storm as Irma, nowhere is entirely safe. Evidence is just now coming to light that many birds were killed outright during the storm, including thousands of flamingos in the Cayo Coco Cays of Cuba. Juvenile birds will fare worse than the adults. Often the impacts – on breeding cycles, for example – are indirect and more long term.

In 1998, Hurricane Gilbert displaced Black-billed Streamertail hummingbirds about 35 miles east from the dense wet limestone forests of eastern Jamaica to Kingston. A  kind citizen found many of these streamertails on her veranda, weak and hardly able to fly. She went from putting out two or three small bottles of sugar water to supplying more than 2 gallons a day. Her efforts undoubtedly saved hundreds of birds.

What can we do to help birds after a hurricane?

It may take weeks, months or decades for our forests, wetlands and gardens to return to their former glory. In the meantime, you can do a lot to help your local birds.

  • A Black-throated Blue Warbler feeding on fruit; this species winters in the Caribbean. (Photo by Anne Sutton)
    A Black-throated Blue Warbler feeding on fruit; this species winters in the Caribbean. (Photo by Anne Sutton)

    Remember the birds as you stock up with supplies, and maintain your hummingbird and seed feeders and bird baths.

  • Provide food for birds following the storm. Feeding birds does not require expensive feeders or equipment.
    • Seeds. Many pigeons and doves will eat cracked corn and small seed-eaters will take cracked rice. Watch out for changes in bird behaviour which may indicate food shortages. For example, White-crowned Pigeons may suddenly start feeding on the ground. If you see this, put out food in suitable places (ideally where birds are not vulnerable to cats).
    • Sugar water. You can make a hummingbird feeder from a bottle with a screw on cap by piercing a small hole in the cap. Fill it with sugar water (1 part sugar to 4 parts water). Use some wire to suspend the bottle at an angle in a place where hummingbirds will find it. You may need to put something red on the bottle to attract the birds initially.
    • Fruit. To provide fruit for birds, use a horizontal stake with 2 inch nails driven into it to put out left over fruit skins for birds.

What else can we do?

Unfortunately, many flamingos in the Cayo Coco Cays on the the north coast of Cuba did not survive the hurricane. (Photo by Granma.cu)
Unfortunately, many flamingos in the Cayo Coco Cays on the the north coast of Cuba did not survive the hurricane. (Photo by Granma.cu)

We need to document the impacts of hurricanes on birds so that we can determine which species have been affected and what we can do to help them. As soon as you can after the storm, take photographs and videos or take notes about:

  • the extent of damage to habitats (and the process of recovery);
  • observations of unusual behaviour by familiar birds;
  • observations of threatened or rare species in their habitat (that might indicate that they survived);
  • observations of dead birds; and
  • observations of unusual birds that may have been blown into your area by the storm ( see also http://birdcast.info/forecast/hurricane-irmas-impact-on-birds/).

Please also enter your observations into eBird Caribbean. You may also post your photos and observations on the BirdsCaribbean Facebook page, twitter (@BirdsCaribbean) and BirdsCaribbean Listserv (or send to Lisa.Sorenson@BirdsCaribbean.org).

Note that because birds may travel to or get blown off course to other islands during storms and hurricanes, it’s just as important to survey birds in other islands that were NOT affected. For example, the more southern Lesser Antillean islands (Grenada, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines) may serve as a refuge from hurricane events. Please go out and do some surveys and keep an eye out for different birds and vagrants in your islands!

Donate to help our Caribbean partners and birds recover

BirdsCaribbean has launched a fundraising effort for hurricane relief for our Caribbean partners and birds. All the funds will be distributed to bird conservation partners across the Greater and Lesser Antilles islands to help them get back on their feet and replace what was lost in the storm—from notebooks, materials and binoculars to offices and infrastructure. The Fund will also support field surveys to assess the status of endemic, resident and many migrant species, as well as recovery and habitat rehabilitation actions by our partners, such as planting native trees that feed birds and provide habitat. Sincere thanks to those that have donated already!

In the long-term 

A Magnificent Frigatebird chick, part of the large nesting colony in Barbuda. (Photo by Ted Eubanks)
A Magnificent Frigatebird chick, part of the large nesting colony in Barbuda. (Photo by Ted Eubanks)

We need to take the opportunity to remind our policy-makers of the importance of maintaining and protecting our natural areas, and to continue public education among stakeholders. Intact mangroves provide the most effective protection from storm surge for coastal settlements and infrastructure. Wetlands soak up and store excess rain and protect surrounding areas and property from flooding. Forests prevent land slippage and flash flooding. Caribbean residents – whether town dwellers, farmers or fishermen – are seeing this for themselves in their daily lives.

Hurricane Irma will perhaps serve as a reminder that the delicate balance of our widely varied ecosystems is in jeopardy. As the University of Oklahoma’s Jeremy D. Ross  notes in his September 9 article, if we do not maintain a healthy natural environment, “We stand to lose not just an isolated songbird most people have never heard of, but potentially the vibrancy of entire ecosystems that provide the Caribbean its inherent allure.”

By Emma Lewis, Ann Sutton and Lisa Sorenson

Havana-Zapata Express: Memories from the BirdsCaribbean Pre-Conference Field Trip

Old Havana with it's beautiful colonial architecture. (Photo by Jessica Rozek)
Old Havana with it’s beautiful colonial architecture. (Photo by Jessica Rozek)

Seventeen strangers from three countries, Bahamas, Bermuda, and the United States, became fast friends on the BirdsCaribbean 4-day Pre-conference Tour. Naturalists, biologists, students, professors, teachers, accountants, business owners and managers, and retirees all shared one common interest – to explore Cuba and see the birds of Cuba and the Caribbean.

We were met at the airport on Saturday July 8th, settled in to the elegant Meliá Cohiba, and given our freedom for the first evening in Havana to stroll the Malecón and to explore the sights and sounds of Cuba. We were told that walking anywhere, anytime in Cuba was safe, and our experiences verified this truth. On Sunday morning, Atila, our Cuban tour guide, started us off with a walking tour of Old Havana. Ambling along while learning history, seeing colonial architecture, street musicians, and cobbled streets busy with tourists and locals alike made for a lovely morning.  Lunch was to the accompaniment of music – music everywhere.

With our tour guide Atíla during the walking tour of old Havana. (Photo by Ericka Gates)
With our tour guide Atila during the walking tour of old Havana. (Photo by Erika Gates)

Between observations around our hotel and our tour of the City we saw the first of our Cuban endemics – the Cuban Blackbird. After lunch, the group piled in to taxis for a walk through the National Botanical Gardens about 30 minutes outside of Havana. There we spotted 13 different species including the Red-legged Honeycreeper, the Great Lizard Cuckoo, and the Yellow-faced Grassquit, not endemics, but exciting none the less. A note here – we were a large group of birders, so numbers of birds observed are from my notes, and many of the more experienced might well have seen more species!

On Sunday evening we were treated to a spectacular Caribbean sunset from the Castillo de San Carlos de la Cabaña. The old fort overlooks the beautiful the Havana harbor, and we watched as darkness fell and the city came to a sparkling enchantment of lights. We had gathered for the re-enactment of the firing of the cannon – a centuries old tradition warning the population that the gates to the fort were about to be closed for the evening.

Red-legged Honeycreeper at the Botanical Gardens outside Havana. (Photo by Ericka Gates)
Red-legged Honeycreeper at the Botanical Gardens outside Havana. (Photo by Erika Gates)

Monday morning we loaded on to our comfortable, air-conditioned bus with Atila, and picked up our bird guide extraordinaire, Maydiel Cañizares Morera, who works for Zapata Swamp National Park. We headed off for Playa Larga in the Bay of Pigs (Bahía de Cochinos) and settled in to our little bungalow accommodations. That afternoon Maydiel took us to “Zunzuncito House” in Paplite, where our hosts Bernabe and Juanita, introduced us to their frequent visitors, the Bee Hummingbirds. The smallest bird in the world – what a treat! There we also saw the Cuban Oriole, the Cuban Emeralds, West Indian Woodpecker, and the ever-present Cuban Blackbirds and House Sparrows.

Our next stop was the forests and savannahs of Soplillar. Despite threatening rain clouds and thick swarms of mosquitos, we intrepidly followed Maydiel, binoculars and cameras at the ready. We were delighted with seeing the Gray-fronted Quail-Dove, the Bare-legged Owl, the Cuban Pygmy-Owl, the Cuban Trogan, the Cuban Tody, the Cuban Green Woodpecker, and the illusive Fernandina’s Flicker. Seeing seven Cuban endemics in one afternoon reflects on Maydiel’s knowledge and skill as a guide. He’s brilliant! This was just day one of birding with Maydiel.

Several female Bee Humingbirds showed off while the group caught fleeting glimpses of two males. (Photo by Ericka Gates)
Several female Bee Humingbirds showed off while the group caught fleeting glimpses of two males. (Photo by Erika Gates)

Tuesday morning, ah, Tuesday morning. Our bus took us to the Cocorilla Canals in Santo Tomás, a saw-grass filled swampy area of Zapata. This small hamlet sits back off the grid of power and telephone lines, and it was here that we met the boatmen that would glide us through the swamp. As we drove up to the small cluster of homes, Maydiel commented, “There’s been a lot of rain, and we have to walk to the boats,” a subtle warning that the trail to our boats would be a wet one. Ha! We were headed to one of only two known locations for the Zapata Wren and one of three locations for the Zapata Sparrow (also known as the Cuban Sparrow) so not a single member of the group hesitated to carry on.

As we trekked through thigh-high water I asked the renowned Bermudian octogenarian conservationist, David Wingate, on his journeys to see a particular bird, how did this experience rate?  “Oh, right up there at the top,” he commented, “right up there at the top.” It was worth it, though, as we were serenaded by the Zapata Wren, and spotted three more endemics, the Zapata Sparrow, the Cuban Vireo, the Cuban Bullfinch. In addition, that morning we saw another 31 species, including a Crested Caracara on the ride back to Playa Larga.

Heading out into Zapata Swamp. (Photo by Ericka Gates)
Heading out into Zapata Swamp. (Photo by Erika Gates)
Catching a glimpse of Cuban Vireos and Yellow-headed Warblers in Bermeja. (Photo by Ericka Gates)
Catching a glimpse of Cuban Vireos and Yellow-headed Warblers in Bermejas. (Photo by Erika Gates)

After a casual lunch near the beach, we were bused 18 miles to Sandero Salinas de Brito.  Riding and walking the road surrounded on both sides by salt flats, we added the Cuban Black Hawk to our list of endemics. We also had the pleasure of seeing about 800 American Flamingos, a Stygian Owl, Osprey, Reddish Egrets, a white morph Great Blue Heron, White Ibis, a Snowy Egret, and a lone Roseate Spoonbill – 25 species in all that afternoon. I especially enjoyed watching the hundreds of land crabs scuttling out of the way of our bus as we headed back to Playa Larga.

After our final dinner at Playa Larga, we packed for an early departure in search of the Blue-headed Quail-Dove in the Refugio de Fauna Bermejas.  Despite a long quiet walk through the forest we had no luck with the Quail-Doves. Though many in our group had previously seen this bird, it was my first good look at the endemic Yellow-headed Warbler. We saw and heard 14 species on that walk, and long will I remember the sound of the Cuban Trogan echoing through woods, a haunting, whooping call from Cuban’s national bird.

Since we were early for lunch at Caleta Buena, we birdwatched and idled on the beach, swam in the rock formation pools, and sipped drinks in the shade of palm trees while Cave Swallows swooped overhead. We spotted the singular Laughing Gull seen on the trip. After a generous buffet lunch, we continued with our slow, steady climb up to Topes de Collantes for the BirdCaribbean 2017 conference.

What a memorable birding experience! Seventeen amazing, talented dedicated birders sharing and enjoying our four-day trip through the lush, green Cuban countryside. The trip was well-organized, and our tour guide Atila was thoughtful and informative. Food was plentiful and for me, that cold Cristal cerveza provided with our meals hit the spot! Our birding guide, Maydiel, made finding so many endemics look easy, a reflection of his knowledge of his country and its birds. We learned about Cuba, the history, the habitats and the birds. I think I speak for all of the participants when we tumbled in to our hotels in Topes de Collantes, we were blown away with our four-day pre-conference birding experience and it will be a cherished memory of a lifetime.

Please scroll over or click on the photos below for captions.

By Martha Cartwright. Martha is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Freeport, Bahamas for 31 years. After becoming a widow in 2013 she started feeding and studying the fish in her canal. One day she looked up and noticed the birds and hasn’t looked down since. She counts her blessings for the tutelage of eBird’s Erika Gates and for a dedicated birding community on Grand Bahama. She teaches yoga and postural alignment therapy when she isn’t birding.

For more fun articles on the BirdsCaribbean 21st International Conference in Cuba, July 2017, check out the following:

Commitment to Conservation (and Adventure) Create an Unforgettable BirdsCaribbean Conference

Coffee, Cave, and a Shot of Expresso

BirdsCaribbean Cuba Conference Connects Scientists and Promotes Conservation

David Wingate Honoured with Lifetime Achievement Award

BirdsCaribbean Conference in Cuba to Highlight Tourism, Technology and More

Exciting Speakers Lined Up for BirdsCaribbean’s 21st International Conference in Cuba

Cuba to Host BirdsCaribbean’s 21st International Conference

Celebrate World Shorebirds Day 2017 and join the Global Shorebird Count!

World Shorebirds Day logo featuring a Ruddy Turnstone.
World Shorebirds Day logo featuring a Ruddy Turnstone.

World Shorebirds Day, September 6th, is right around the corner. According to the founder of this annual event, Gyorgy Szimuly, “World Shorebirds Day is a special day to celebrate shorebirds and the hard-working people dedicated to saving them.” Since it’s inception four years ago, the event has received a wonderful response with people from all over the planet joining together to enjoy shorebirds and promote their conservation.

One of the main activities of World Shorebirds Day is the Global Shorebird Count—hundreds of enthusiasts, including birdwatchers, educators, conservationists, researchers, politicians, and even hunters, will take part between 1-7 September. “The Caribbean region has been a great supporter since the beginning,” commented Gyorgy. “We hope that people from many different islands plan an event and again participate in the count. It would be fantastic to hit an all-time high in the number of registered sites in 2017!”

Registration is open and available at this link. For committed and returning counters there is even a Loyalty Program – read about it on the blog.  Everyone is encouraged to register through the form on this page and have a chance to win one of the fantastic prizes.

Piping Plover on Pedro Pond, Jamaica - spotted during last year's World Shorebirds Day, first record for the island.
Piping Plover on Pedro Pond, Jamaica – spotted during last year’s World Shorebirds Day, first record for the island. (photo by Ann Sutton)

You never know what exciting new birds you might see on World Shorebirds Day. For example, last year Ann Sutton spotted the first Piping Plover ever seen in Jamaica on Pedro Pond! All observations are valuable, however. Many shorebird species are declining and we still know very little about shorebird migration in the Caribbean, such as where birds are stopping to rest and feed on migration and numbers of each species. So be sure to head out and find some shorebirds for World Shorebirds Day and enter your checklists for your Global Shorebird Count in eBird Caribbean. If you’re new to eBird, check out this Quick Start guide.

To make your submitted data visible to World Shorebirds Day, please be sure to share your checklist with worldshorebirdsday eBird username of World Shorebirds Day (WorldShorebirdsDay) or add shorebirdsday@gmail.com email address, to your contact list, and share all your related checklists with us (only checklists made during the World Shorebirds Day count period between 1–7 September 2017 are eligible). Guidelines for sharing checklists are here.

Don’t forget also that any counts carried out at a wetland or beach count as a Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC) count; enter your data as a CWC count on step 2 of data entry on eBird Caribbean. In addition, your shorebird count can be part of the International Shorebird Survey, which we are just beginning to encourage in the Caribbean – read more here.

Hat’s off to our partner in Puerto Rico, Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (SOPI), who are going all out this year with their World Shorebirds Day celebration. They have organized the 1st Shorebird Festival—a 3-day event from September 1-3. A variety of exciting activities are planned including educational talks, shorebird identification workshops, activities for children, live music, shorebird artwork, and a photographic exhibition of shorebirds presented by local photographers. According to organizer Luis Ramos, “We want to educate the community about the great variety of shorebirds that migrate to the island and promote the conservation and restoration of habitats for them.” If you live in Puerto Rico, be sure to participate!

Good luck to SOPI on their festival! And we look forward to hearing back from many of you about your findings on World Shorebirds Day!

First Shorebird Festival in Puerto Rico, organized by Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (SOPI).
First Shorebird Festival in Puerto Rico, organized by Sociedad Ornitológica Puertorriqueña (SOPI).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schedule of activities for the 1st Shorebird Festival in Puerto Rico - join the fun!
Schedule of activities for the 1st Shorebird Festival in Puerto Rico – join the fun!