From Caribbean Waterbird Census

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!

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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New Photo Book Celebrates the 2016 Caribbean Waterbird Census

The striking White Ibis uses its long down-curved bill to probe for prey in shallow water. It is locally common on some wetlands in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, including Cuba, Turks and Caicos, Islands, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands and Jamaica. (photo by David Raynor)
The striking White Ibis uses its long down-curved bill to probe for prey in shallow water. It is locally common on some wetlands in the Bahamas and Greater Antilles, including Cuba, Turks and Caicos Islands, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, Cayman Islands and Jamaica. (photo by David Raynor)

Earlier this year we asked our dedicated partners in the Caribbean who participate in the Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC) to share their experiences and some photos with us. We are grateful to those that took the time to do so. Some of these photos were shared on our BirdsCaribbean Instagram and published on Wetlands International’s website in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the International Waterbird Census (of which the CWC is a part), under the theme, The Biggest Count Ever. We’ve taken the stories and photos and turned them into a beautiful Shutterfly book that you can purchase or view online!

From stilts to sandpipers, ducks to dowitchers, a great diversity of waterbirds were observed and counted by over 260 participants in our 7th annual CWC, including large concentrations of waterbirds in previously unknown sites and many sightings of threatened birds, such as the Piping Plover and Red Knot. We want to thank everyone for making the 2016 regional CWC count another great success (although 2016 is not over and we hope folks are still out there doing their fall migration counts!).

Engaging the local community is key in achieving long-term success for waterbird conservation in the Dominican Republic.
Engaging the local community is key in achieving long-term success for waterbird conservation in the Dominican Republic.

This book was created in honor of the fine work that our partners are doing, such as Maria Paulino from the Dominican Republic, who understands the value of the CWC in engaging communities as well as contributing to science and conservation.

Maria commented, “During the time we’ve been doing this count we have come to realize that our country has a wealth that man can put no economic value on; it is a gift from nature that is still hidden for many. We have discovered the wonders of our wetlands thanks to these counts, and realized that bird species we once considered rare are actually quite common, that these species are there and are part of our fauna. These counts have also served to involve communities so that they can learn about, appreciate and care for these wetlands. We as a group have managed to integrate new people in the counts and they have learned to regard wetlands differently, because they see a great number of beautiful birds. We have also discovered new places in our country with a variety of wonderful birds. It is a pleasure to be a part of the CWC – we are committed to continuing monitoring and protecting wetland habitats, and we look forward to expanding our counts elsewhere in the future.”

The CWC is also an excellent tool for engaging young people to learn about birds, as demonstrated by the National Environment Planning Agency in Jamaica.
The CWC is also an excellent tool for engaging young people to learn about birds, as demonstrated by the National Environment Planning Agency in Jamaica.

Andrea Otto and her team, members of the Environmental Awareness Group in Antigua, as well as many others noted the impact the drought has been having on the region’s wetlands and waterbirds and the vital importance of conservation. “Many areas were devoid of water, highlighting the importance of more permanent wetlands, like McKinnon’s Pond, where the team sighted many species of ducks, shorebirds, herons, egrets and seabirds,” declared Andrea. “The presence of all these birds and many more at McKinnon’s Pond in spite of the severe drought, has cemented its absolute importance as a wetland which should be preserved with herculean effort.”

Below we share with you a small selection of photos from the 2016 CWC, but you can see many more and read stories about the birds that were seen via the link to the Shutterfly book. We will be giving away two copies of this photo book to persons that participated in the 2016 CWC (random drawing). To learn how to participate in the CWC, visit this link – all are welcome!

One of the CWC surveyors at Ashton Lagoon, Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (photo by Kristy Shortte)
One of the CWC surveyors at Ashton Lagoon, Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (photo by Kristy Shortte)

 

CWC surveyors at Wheeland Pond, Turks and Caicos Islands. (photo by Eric Salamanca)
CWC surveyors at Wheeland Pond, Turks and Caicos Islands. (photo by Eric Salamanca)

 

A group of Lesser Yellowlegs rests in the shallow water in a Curacao wetland. (photo by Robyn Fidanque)
A group of Lesser Yellowlegs rests in the shallow water in a Curacao wetland. (photo by Robyn Fidanque)

 

Fernando Simal braving the elements during Bonaire's CWC. (photo by Lisa Sorenson)
Fernando Simal braving the elements during Bonaire’s CWC. (photo by Lisa Sorenson)

 

CWC surveyors in The Bahamas. (photo by David Jones)
CWC surveyors in The Bahamas. (photo by David Jones)

 

A flock of Sanderlings feeds along the beach at Cayo Jutia, Cuba. (photo by Alieny Gonzalez)
A flock of Sanderlings feeds along the beach at Cayo Jutia, Cuba. (photo by Alieny Gonzalez)

Wanted!! Shorebird Enthusiasts

White-rumped Sandpiper during spring migration. (photo by Sipke Stapert)
White-rumped Sandpiper during spring migration in Bonaire. (photo by Sipke Stapert)

Are you a shorebird fan and want to support their conservation? Do you already carry out counts for the Caribbean Waterbird Census? Then join the International Shorebird Survey (ISS). Lisa Sorenson explains how to participate.

It’s that time of year when our islands are inundated with avian visitors —a great variety of delightful birds that have winged their way south to escape the soon-to-be-frozen north and take refuge in our sunny isles. They brighten our backyards, parks and ponds, and make birding ventures much more fun and interesting – what new migrant might surprise us today? I have had the good fortune to spend a little time in both Cuba and Bonaire the last few weeks and carry out surveys at various wetlands and coastal sites on each island – the large number of shorebirds at some sites, hungrily probing for invertebrates in the mud or snapping up brine flies out of the air was amazing.

Thanks to the great work you all are doing in gathering data through the Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC) and International Piping Plover Census, the importance of this region for waterbirds and shorebirds is becoming better understood at a rapid rate. Your counts are revealing that many shorebirds use the region as a winter home or as a place to rest and refuel during their long migrations. Your counts are also showing that a number of sites are of critical importance to migratory shorebirds, a group that has been showing serious population declines for the last 15 years. In order to further document numbers and long-term trends and gather additional information to help conserve these sites, there is a need for more regular monitoring data, especially during migration.

Knowing that many of you already go out to count waterbirds for the CWC, we would like to invite you to schedule some extra counts during the migration season in the Caribbean and with that, become a volunteer for the International Shorebird Survey (ISS).

ISS is an initiative organized by Manomet since 1974 and is a volunteer-based monitoring program specifically focusing on counting shorebirds during the southbound and northbound migration. These surveys are implemented throughout the Western Hemisphere and the data that has been gathered by volunteers has proven key to shorebird conservation planning.

A Short-billed Dowitcher probing for critters at one of Bonaire's incredibly important salinas for migratory shorebirds. (photo by Sipke Stapert)
A Short-billed Dowitcher probing for critters at one of Bonaire’s incredibly important salinas for migratory shorebirds. (photo by Sipke Stapert)

How to participate? Easy!
Just go to a/your nearby shorebird site two or three times a month during the migration season (August-October and March-May) and count all shorebirds. As the ISS protocol is basically the same as your CWC protocol—you can do both counts at the same time. Simply do a CWC count, making sure to count all birds, and enter your data as usual choosing the “CWC Point Count” or “CWC Area Search” on Step 2 of “Submit observations” in eBird Caribbean (make sure you use our Caribbean eBird portal to be able to choose the CWC protocol). After uploading your data, share the checklist with the username “ISSData” which will flag the count as a joint ISS count for the folks at Manomet.

More information on the ISS is in the attached flyer, which you are welcome to distribute to other potential volunteers. You can also learn more on this website.

If you are interested but have further questions, please do not hesitate to contact Arne Lesterhuis (Alesterhuis@manomet.org) or Lisa Sorenson (Lisa.Sorenson@BirdsCaribbean.org).

Many thanks in advance for helping us to document the importance of our islands to shorebirds (see for example, Bonaire). We hope to see folks participating in the ISS soon!

By Lisa Sorenson, Shorebird Enthusiast and Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean

p.s. Here is a link to some helpful resources for counting shorebirds, a very challenging group to identify. It takes years of experience to become really good at shorebird ID, but learning is great fun. Here are some quick tips:

  • Go out and practice as often as possible. Spend as many hours as you can watching shorebirds, noting their overall size and body shape, feeding method, color and shape of bill, color and length of legs, call and behavior. Based on body and bill size and shape, learn to recognize groups, such as plovers vs. sandpipers. You will need to be a detective and work out the identification based on multiple subtle clues.
  • Try to learn a few common species really well that will serve as a reference (‘marker bird”) for size comparisons with species that you know less well.
  • If you are not sure about the ID, don’t guess! It’s much better to enter the data as “plover sp” or “peep sp” or “large shorebird” – various options like this are provided on eBird Caribbean – then enter inaccurate information.
  • Take photos of any species you are not sure of and send them to us for help with ID. This will help ensure that data quality remains high and help you to become proficient at identifying shorebirds.
  • Arm yourself with really great field guides, study them and make notes on the pages. In addition to Birds of the West Indies, by Raffaele et al, we recommend Stokes Beginners Guide to Shorebirds by Don and Lillian Stokes (excellent small book with KEY ID tips and great photos!). The Shorebird Guide by O’Brien, Crossley and Karlson is also very good.

Download the Site Form.

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The Caribbean’s Piping Plover: A Matter of Knowing Where to Look

A peek into the sometimes elusive world of the Caribbean’s Piping Plover and the challenges of finding them on their wintering grounds. Elise Elliott-Smith reports Caribbean results for the 2016 International Piping Plover Census, held every 5 years.

A flock of Piping Plovers and a Sanderling in South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands. (photo by Craig Watson).
A flock of Piping Plovers and a Sanderling found in South Caicos, Turks and Caicos Islands. (photo by Craig Watson).

I’ll never forget the excitement, relief, and wonder I felt in seeing a group of ten Piping Plovers (Charadrius melodus) on Little Water Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands. It was January 27, our first day of the 2016 International Piping Plover Census, and I had been more than a little anxious that we might not see any at all. I had made contact with Eric Salamanca of the Turks and Caicos Department of the Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) through BirdsCaribbean, and with the assistance of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) we successfully launched the first ever Piping Plover census in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Many people helped make this possible although it had been challenging getting the necessary funding, permits, and planning. Aerial images of the habitat looked good but there were only a handful of reports of only one or two Piping Plover in TCI, and more than one person had discouraged me from trying to survey there.

Elise Elliott-Smith, Craig Watson and Eric Salamanca count Piping Plovers on Fort George Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands. (photo by Caleb Spiegel).
Elise Elliott-Smith, Craig Watson and Eric Salamanca count Piping Plovers on Fort George Cay, Turks and Caicos Islands. (photo by Caleb Spiegel).

Nevertheless, against all odds our census confirmed that these little birds had successfully flown over one thousand miles from their North American breeding grounds to land here on Little Water Cay, an island inhabited only by the critically endangered Turks and Caicos Iguana and other native wildlife. As we excitedly set up our scopes, the Piping Plovers quietly foraged on a little sand-spit near a couple of American Oystercatchers and a small fishing boat.

Piping Plovers in the Joulter Cays, Bahamas. (photo by Walker Golder).
Piping Plovers in the Joulter Cays, Bahamas. (photo by Walker Golder).

Piping Plover are a threatened/ endangered shorebird that breed in North America along the Atlantic Coast (Charadrius melodus melodus) and the interior’s Great Lakes and Great Plains regions (Charadrius melodus circumcinctus) of Canada and the United States. They are better studied on their breeding grounds, and their tendency to disperse across their winter grounds makes monitoring and conservation efforts quite a challenge. In order to understand their distribution and track changes in populations, the International Piping Plover Census has been conducted every five years since 1991 across the bird’s winter and breeding range. Counts are always lower during winter, and we suspected we were missing birds outside the U.S. However, we didn’t have an inkling of the importance of the Caribbean to this at-risk species until we found over 400 Piping Plover in the Bahamas in 2006 and around 1,000 in 2011.

Location and numbers of Piping Plovers seen in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Islands and Cuba during the 2016 International Piping Plover Winter Census. Map courtesy of Audubon.
Location and numbers of Piping Plovers seen in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Islands and Cuba during the 2016 International Piping Plover Winter Census. Over 1,500 birds were counted. Map courtesy of Audubon.

During the 2016 International Piping Plover Census we coordinated the biggest search to date for this species in the Bahamas and northern Caribbean, resulting in over 1,500 observations. Multi-national teams of biologists and volunteers from the Bahamas National Trust, National Audubon, US Geological Survey, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Canadian Wildlife Service, Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, BirdsCaribbean, and many others surveyed the Bahamas, Cuba, and Turks and Caicos Islands. The Piping Plover surveys were well-publicized with instructions and identification tips published on eBird Caribbean, helping to garner support and volunteers counters. Surveys on other Caribbean islands were conducted as part of the Caribbean Waterbird Census; incidental reports also helped increase our understanding of this species’ presence in the Caribbean.

Reddish Egret (photo by ).
A stunning Reddish Egret in the Bahamas. (photo by Walker Golder).

It is an exciting time for biologists wishing to learn more about the distribution of Piping Plover and threats it faces during the non-breeding season. We also learned about other shorebird species in the Caribbean, including Wilson’s Plover and Snowy Plover, which is crucial to understanding why many shorebird species are declining, as well as learning more about their winter distribution. Although their eggs and young are vulnerable, recovery of the Piping Plover and other species depends on protection across their life-cycle. For example, the 2011 Census led to the designation of a National Park and Important Bird Area in the Bahamas. The 2016 results will hopefully inform many other conservation initiatives.

Below is a summary of the Census on different islands/ island groups and additional photos and maps showing locations of surveys and numbers of different species of plovers that were counted.

Cuba 2016

University of Havana's Bird Ecology Lab (left to right) - volunteer: Ral Gomez, Bird Ecology Lab: Alieny Gonzalez, MartÌn Acosta, Lourdes Mugica, Ianela GarcÌa-Lau, Ariam Jiménez. (photo by Jen Rock).
University of Havana’s Bird Ecology Lab (left to right) – volunteer: Ral Gomez, Bird Ecology Lab: Alieny Gonzalez, MartÌn Acosta, Lourdes Mugica, Ianela GarcÌa-Lau, Ariam Jiménez. (photo by Jen Rock).

For the fifth time (5 out of 6 census years) the Canadian Wildlife Service partnered with local Cuban biologists to survey sites on the Caribbean’s largest island. 2016 marked a new collaboration with the University of Havana’s Bird Ecology Group led by Dr. Ariam Jiménez. Surveys differed from previous years in that there was greater capacity and improved coverage, with the addition of new survey sites and more local engagement.

Francois Shaffer (Canadian Wildlife Service) and Ianela Garcia-Lau (University of Havana) surveying for Piping Plover at Cayo Coco, Ciego de Ávila Province, Cuba. (photo by Jen Rock)
Francois Shaffer (Canadian Wildlife Service) and Ianela Garcia-Lau (University of Havana) surveying for Piping Plover at Cayo Coco, Ciego de Ávila Province, Cuba. (photo by Jen Rock)

A total of 105 Piping Plover were detected, an increase from the previous count of 89 birds during the 2006 census. Without a doubt, one highlight was identifying five banded birds from various breeding grounds including: Atlantic US, U.S. Great Lakes, U.S. Great Plains and Eastern Canada. However, our greatest delight was spotting birds from home: one banded in New Brunswick’s Acadian Peninsula and the other on the island of Newfoundland – the latter where only 12 birds have previously been banded! Overall the trip was a great success and we are happy to have engaged the expertise of the University of Havana; all of which was made possible via partnerships with Birds Studies Canada and through connections made via BirdsCaribbean.

The team was excited to spot a Piping Plover banded by Environment Canada at Plover ground North, Acadian Peninsula New Brunswick (summer 2015)! The banded bird (left foreground) was seen at playa Covarubias, Camag¸ey Province, Cuba, January 2016. (photo by Jen Rock)
The team was excited to spot a Piping Plover banded by Environment Canada at Plover ground North, Acadian Peninsula New Brunswick (summer 2015)! The banded bird (left foreground) was seen at playa Covarubias, Camag¸ey Province, Cuba, January 2016. (photo by Jen Rock)
Dr. Ariam Jiménez counting plovers at playa Santa Lucia, Camagüey Province, Cuba. (photo by Jen Rock)
Dr. Ariam Jiménez counting plovers at playa Santa Lucia, Camagüey Province, Cuba. (photo by Jen Rock)

The Bahamas 2016

Braving the elements to conduct the census in the Bahamas. (photo by Walker Golder).
Braving the elements to conduct the census in the Bahamas. (photo by Walker Golder).

Between January 18 and 25, teams of Bahamians, U.S. and Canadian scientists spread out across the Bahama Archipelago to participate in the 2016 International Plover Census. The census was coordinated by Bahamas National Trust, Audubon, USGS and Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey.  Funding from USFWS, Disney and Audubon, helped engage an impressive thirty Bahamian volunteers who joined international scientists and volunteers to participate, develop skills, and increase our collective knowledge of shorebirds across the Bahamas.

American Oystercatchers in the Bahamas (photo by Walker Golder).
American Oystercatchers in the Bahamas (photo by Walker Golder).

Faced with many logistical challenges and some uncooperative weather, the teams still managed to survey Grand Bahama, Abaco, Eleuthera, Harbour Island, Andros, New Providence, Inagua, the Berry Islands, the Joulter Cays, Water Cays, the Exumas and Ragged Island chain. Shorebird research and improved Bahamian capacity between the 2011 and 2016 censuses helped focus efforts, which resulted in a successful count and the final data points to create at least two new Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas. The total number of Piping Plovers counted seen is still being finalized but is between 1,350 and 1,400, an increase from 2011 effort. Several banded birds were tracked back to their breeding grounds in the United States and Canada.

Turks and Caicos Islands 2016

Plover counters on North Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands (left to right): Elise Elliott-Smith, Caleb Spiegel, Brian Naqqi Manco of the DECR, and Craig Watson.
Plover counters on North Caicos in the Turks and Caicos Islands (left to right): Elise Elliott-Smith, Caleb Spiegel, Brian Naqqi Manco of the DECR, and Craig Watson.

The 2016 Census was the first ever survey for Piping Plover on any of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), thanks to support from USFWS Migratory Birds, two USFWS and a USGS biologist worked with local biologists from the TCI Dept of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR). Additionally, a School for Field Studies professor accompanied us on one survey and we received support from local boat and fishing guides. Many of the larger Islands and smaller Cays were surveyed including Providenciales, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos, Little Ambergris Cay, Dick Hill Cay, and others. Piping Plover were found throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands on 6 different islands/cays.

Wet work! Caleb Spiegel (USFWS) looks for plovers on Little Ambergris Cay, TCI. (photo by Craig Watson)
Wet work! Caleb Spiegel (USFWS) looks for plovers on Little Ambergris Cay, TCI. (photo by Craig Watson)

The preliminary total for surveys in the Turks and Caicos Islands was 96.  Since little is known about shorebirds in Turks and Caicos and there is conservation concern for other species, efforts were made to record all shorebirds encountered, resulting in over 3,200 shorebirds from 17 species. We surveyed many of the most promising areas in the Turks and Caicos Islands, however there is additional habitat that we were unable to explore. The highlight of the trip was finding a flock of 42 Piping Plover on a small cay near South Caicos, including banded birds from New Brunswick (Canada), Massachusetts, and Rhode Island (U.S.).

Other Islands

One of two Piping Plovers spotted by Sipke Stapert in Bonaire, winter 2016. (photo by Sipke Stapert)
One of two Piping Plovers spotted by Sipke Stapert in Bonaire, winter 2016. (photo by Sipke Stapert)

Although unable to organize surveys on other Caribbean islands as part of the 2016 International Census, we requested participants in the Caribbean Waterbird Census to make an effort to visit suitable habitat to look for Piping Plovers. Two surveys were conducted in Aruba but no Piping Plovers were seen. However, two were seen incidentally in Bonaire after the census in early March.  Small numbers of Piping Plover have been reported in prior years on islands throughout the Caribbean including the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Antigua, St. Croix, Guadeloupe, and others. Generally these reports have been of only one or two birds, but there was one sighting of a group of 12 observed in the Dominican Republic in 2006. Since the Piping Plover is rare, cryptic, and widely dispersed in winter they could be more widespread in the Caribbean than we know at this time.  Hence, we encourage biologists and birders on all islands to look for them on sand-spits, beaches, and other unvegetated or sparsely vegetated habitat on or adjacent to the shore.

Looking Forward to 2021 and Beyond

Wilson's Plover, one of the few shorebirds that breeds in the Bahamas, photographed on Andros Island in the Bahamas. (photo by David Jones).
Wilson’s Plover, one of the few shorebirds that breeds in the Bahamas, photographed on Andros Island in the Bahamas. (photo by David Jones).

Participating in the 2016 International Census was an amazing experience and I long to return in order to explore further and access sites we couldn’t get to in 2016. Flying from South Caicos to Providenciales in a tiny Twin Otter, I had a view of all the Caicos and little cays and it was impossible not to be struck by the beauty of the crystal clear waters and wonderful habitat. One thing that surprised me was the breadth of undeveloped and lightly developed land in Turks and Caicos. I did not realize that such areas still existed in the Caribbean, and these areas are an excellent resource for locals, visitors and birds. Birding eco-tourism is being promoted by the Turks and Caicos National Museum and the Tourism Board. National Audubon has been doing great work training locals in the Bahamas. Bird and nature tourism is also being developed throughout the Caribbean through the Caribbean Birding Trail, which has trained guides in Grenada, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. There is huge potential for much more, as long as natural areas are protected.

Learning more about Piping Plovers and other shorebird species in the Caribbean informs conservation efforts  and leverages international support to protect the vital habitat on which they depend. So, open your field guides to the shorebird section and read up on your plovers, then go look for them next winter, participate in the 2021 International Piping Plover Census, take pictures, and report all your observations on eBird Caribbean (and any Piping Plover sightings to me as well please!). With luck and your help, we might ensure that this fascinating but vulnerable shorebird remains for future generations to enjoy.

Elise Elliott-Smith is a Wildlife Biologist for US Geological Survey Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center in Corvallis, Oregon. She works on a variety of research and monitoring projects related to shorebird species of conservation concern. Email: eelliott-smith@usgs.gov 

Many thanks to Jen Rock (Canadian Wildlife Service) and Matt Jeffery (National  Audubon Society) for summary information on the counts in Cuba and the Bahamas, respectively, and Karen Aguilar Mugica for the Cuba maps.

P.S. Please continue to look for Piping Plovers whenever you are visiting coastal areas and/or doing a Caribbean Waterbird Census count. Plover identification tips and photographs are available here. Enter your checklists in eBird Caribbean and help advance our knowledge of all Caribbean waterbirds. Be on the lookout for banded birds and do your best to read the band colors and flags as described at this website and be sure to report any banded bands you see. Thanks!

P.P.S. Guide booklets on bird-watching in the Turks and Caicos Islands are available at this website.

Location and numbers of Wilson's Plovers seen in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Islands and Cuba during the 2016 International Piping Plover Winter Census. Map courtesy of Audubon.
Location and numbers of Wilson’s Plovers seen in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Islands and Cuba during the 2016 International Piping Plover Winter Census. Map courtesy of Audubon.
Location and numbers of Snowy Plovers seen in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Islands and Cuba during the 2016 International Piping Plover Winter Census. Map courtesy of Audubon.
Location and numbers of Snowy Plovers seen in the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, Islands and Cuba during the 2016 International Piping Plover Winter Census. Map courtesy of Audubon.
A closer look at Piping Plover survey sites in Cuba, 2016. Map courtesy of Karen Aguilar Mugica.
A closer look at Piping Plover survey sites in Cuba, 2016. Map courtesy of Karen Aguilar Mugica.
A closer look at Piping Plover numbers at each of the survey sites in Cuba, 2016. Map courtesy of Karen Aguilar Mugica.
A closer look at Piping Plover numbers at each of the survey sites in Cuba, 2016. Map courtesy of Karen Aguilar Mugica.
Piping Plover in the Berry Islands. (photo by Walker Golder)
Piping Plover in the Berry Islands. (photo by Walker Golder)