From Partner News

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!

Saving a Species in Peril—A Holistic Approach to Conserving the Ridgway’s Hawk in the Dominican Republic

Soaring above the tree tops of Los Haitises National Park is the mighty Ridgway’s Hawk. Conflicts with humans and changes in its forest habitat have made it hard for this species to survive. Marta Curti tells us about the work of The Peregrine Fund to save this critically endangered raptor.

Ridgway's Hawks are critically endangered, found only in Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by the Peregrine Fund).
Ridgway’s Hawks are critically endangered and found only in Los Haitises National Park in the Dominican Republic. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)

The Ridgway’s Hawk is endemic to the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, but is now considered to be extinct in Haiti. The last remaining population of this species is in a small national park, Los Haitises, in the Dominican Republic (DR). There are only an estimated 350-450 individuals left in the wild.

I have been working as a biologist for The Peregrine Fund for the past 17 years.  I have been lucky enough to have been a part of several of their projects helping to conserve birds of prey in many countries around the world. In 2011, I joined the team working in DR to help to save the Ridgway’s Hawk from extinction.

The Peregrine Fund’s Ridgway’s Hawk conservation project has been running since 2002 and has many facets. When I was asked to share a short article about our project on the BirdsCaribbean blog, I spent a long time thinking what to write about. I could focus on the advances we have made to prevent botfly (Philornis pici) infestations in nestling Ridgway’s Hawks – an issue that, if left untreated, could cause over 70% mortality in young hawks.

Or I could discuss the successes of our Assisted Dispersal Program: bringing young hawks from Los Haitises National Park and releasing them in Ojos Indígenas Reserve in Punta Cana in an effort to create additional populations of the hawk in other protected areas on the island. Assisted Dispersal has resulted in the formation of 15 breeding pairs to date and 22 wild fledged young!

Nestling Ridgway's Hawks hatched in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, thanks to The Peregrine Fund's Assisted Dispersal Program. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)
Ridgway’s Hawks hatched in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic thanks to The Peregrine Fund’s Assisted Dispersal Program. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)

Another aspect of the project I could mention is our collaboration with Fundación Grupo PUNTACANA and the Disney Conservation Fund to retrofit dangerous power lines preventing electrocutions of not only Ridgway’s Hawks, but other species of birds as well. A whole other blog post could focus on our program to provide free chicken coops to individuals in small communities, an effort to help avoid conflicts between humans and hawks that sometimes prey on young poultry.

Instead, today I would like to tell you about our community development and our environmental education programs. One important aspect of The Peregrine Fund’s work, is to improve the lives of people in areas where we are conserving birds of prey, whether through training, educational activities, or employment opportunities.

In the communities surrounding LHNP we are working with 17 local technicians that we have trained and hired. Some are in their 40s and 50s and have been with the project since its inception. Others are in their early twenties and are just beginning their careers. In small towns around LHNP, there are limited job opportunities and our project is able to provide economic benefits, employment and valuable training in skills such as tree climbing, data collection, bird banding, nest searching, as well as computer data entry and leadership skills.

A completed painting of a Ridgway's Hawk, done by one of the local school children. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)
A completed painting of a Ridgway’s Hawk, done by one of the local schoolchildren. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)

We began our environmental education program in Punta Cana in 2013, after three of our released Ridgway’s Hawks were shot in a nearby community. Since then, we have expanded our efforts and now work with over 15 communities and have reached over 7,000 individuals in a wide radius around the release site through door-to-door visits, educational presentations, school activities and teacher training workshops. One of the most fun and successful activities that we do every year (as part of our Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival) is the celebration of Ridgway’s Hawk Day, May 25th.

Thanks to a generous donation from BirdsCaribbean, this year we celebrated Ridgway’s Hawk Day with three separate activities around the country! The first, we held with two of our local partners: the National Zoo (ZOODOM) and Fundación Propagas. Schoolchildren from Santo Domingo were treated to a close-up view of a live Ridgway’s Hawk at the zoo, and also participated in an art project, receiving a raptor inspired mask at the end of their visit.

The second and third Ridgway’s Hawk Day activities took place in Punta Cana, where, with the help of Fundación Grupo PUNTACANA – another important local partner, we hosted two celebrations on June 1st and 2nd. Over 80 children visited our Ridgway’s Hawk release site in Punta Cana and saw young hawks up close, learning about the release process and the importance of protecting wildlife. Participants also learned how to use binoculars on a nature walk while practicing birding in forests and lagoons. The children also created beautiful art, painting and coloring on recycled wood – which focused on Ridgway’s Hawks, nature, and other wildlife observed during their visit. Select pieces will be displayed at an event in a local art museum early next year.

Participants are beginning to paint images of Ridgway's Hawks and other wildlife and nature scenes from the day. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)
Participants are beginning to paint images of Ridgway’s Hawks and other wildlife and nature scenes from the day. (Photo by The Peregrine Fund)

To end the day, we headed down to a nearby beach where the kids played games in the sand, learning about the importance of a balanced ecosystem for creatures both on land and in the sea. After a picnic lunch under the shade of nearby trees, students clapped hands and swayed to the rhythm of drums during an interactive dance performance by one of our volunteers, in a full Ridgway’s Hawk costume!

We have already begun to see the positive effects of our education efforts in communities, especially in the attitudes of individual people. Most notably, in the community where our three Ridgway’s Hawks were killed a number of years ago, we now have a nesting pair of hawks who just fledged two perfectly healthy young! The entire community knows of the presence of the hawks and is now actively supporting their protection!

Though we still have a long way to go to ensure the conservation of the species, we continue to be encouraged by the changes we see taking place, making great strides each year and we look forward to the day that the Ridgway’s Hawk is no longer an endangered species.

A "Ridgway's Hawk" comes to visit.  (photo by The Peregrine Fund)
A “Ridgway’s Hawk” comes to visit.  (photo by The Peregrine Fund)

Marta Curti works as a biologist with The Peregrine Fund, a non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve birds of prey worldwide.

Join the Conservian Live-Aboard Schooner Expedition 2017

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

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

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

Project Summary

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

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

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

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

Project Activities:

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

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

May expedition schedule and locations (final dates TBD)

Assist for one week or more:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the story of our successful 2016 expedition. 

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

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

Download the Expedition Brochure.

Opportunity to Study One of the Rarest Birds in the Caribbean – The Bahama Oriole Project

Bahama Oriole adult on Andros. It could be a male or a female, as both sexes have this striking black and yellow coloration. (photo Daniel Stonko, UMBC)
Bahama Oriole adult on Andros. It could be a male or a female, as both sexes have this striking black and yellow coloration. (photo Daniel Stonko, UMBC)

The Bahama Oriole (Icterus northropi) is the most endangered bird in the Bahamas. It is now restricted just to the Andros Island complex. There may be as few as several hundred individuals left, making it also one of the most endangered endemic birds in the entire Caribbean. Of greatest concern is that the oriole was driven from the Abaco Islands in the 1990s for unknown reasons. It is one thing to have a known killer lurking, but in the case of the oriole, what caused it to go extinct on Abaco is unknown. We hope to help preserve this charismatic and colorful species on Andros, which surprisingly is not that difficult to observe on certain parts of the island. Like many tropical birds, both the females and the males have elaborate coloration – both sexes are jet black with bright yellow patches over much of the body.

We began the Bahama Oriole Project last year with the overall goal of preventing the extinction of this beautiful oriole. The project is a collaboration between the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the Bahamas National Trust (BNT). We have conducted several field trips to begin to determine how many orioles are left, and to learn what the major threats are to this species. We also need to learn much more about where the oriole spends its time throughout the year, including what it eats, how widely it ranges, and what its preferred habitats are for feeding and nesting. The last published estimates suggest as few as 300 individuals may remain. However, in May 2016 our field team, including students from the Bahamas and from UMBC, discovered previously unknown breeding populations deep in Andros’ vast pine forests. For several reasons, we are guardedly optimistic that good science and dedicated conservation measures can save this species from extinction.

eBird Caribbean sightings of the Bahama Oriole. The oriole is now confined to the Andros island complex, roughly 150 miles SE of Miami. Much of Andros is undisturbed wilderness, just a 15 minute flight from the huge resorts in Nassau. The oriole is now completely absent from the Abaco complex north of New Providence. (Recent sightings are shown in red, sightings older than 30 days shown in blue.)
eBird Caribbean sightings of the Bahama Oriole. The oriole is now confined to the Andros island complex, roughly 150 miles SE of Miami. Much of Andros is undisturbed wilderness, just a 15 minute flight from the huge resorts in Nassau. The oriole is now completely absent from the Abaco complex north of New Providence. (Recent sightings are shown in red, sightings older than 30 days shown in blue.)

Our first need is to recruit a PhD student to lead this research effort for the next five years. The student would be advised by Kevin Omland in the Biology Department at UMBC, in collaboration with researchers in the Geography Department at UMBC (Collin Studds and Matt Fagan) and researchers at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (Scott Sillett). The student could choose to focus on any one or two aspects of the project including: 1) population size estimation and habitat usage, 2) breeding ecology including cowbird parasitism and predation by introduced predators, 3) remote sensing and details of habitat usage in breeding and non-breeding season (in relation to fire and climate change), and 4) conservation genetics of populations on three different parts of Andros. Please contact Kevin Omland (omland@umbc.edu) and send a CV and short paragraph on research interests. The application target date for full consideration by the UMBC Biology Department is Jan 1, 2017. 

We are grateful for the support and advice given to the project by BirdsCaribbean, and we plan to give updates on the project through blog posts and newsletter items. Meanwhile, we invite you to come to Andros to see all the great migratory and endemic birds there! Be sure to add to our knowledge by posting all sightings of Bahama Orioles to eBird Caribbean and to the “Bahama Oriole Project” on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BahamaOrioleProject/

Finally, the project needs ongoing assistance with everything from housing to transportation on Andros, so please consider either monetary or in-kind donations to the project through BirdsCaribbean. Thank you!

By Kevin Omland, Ph.D., Professor, Biology Dept., University of Maryland, Baltimore County

#GoatIslandsSaved! Conservationists Warmly Welcome Jamaican Government Decision Against Transshipment Port in Protected Area

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness in the bird-watching hide at the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation's (C-CAM) Wetland Information Centre in the Portland Bight Protected Area. The hide is dedicated to the late Jamaican ornithologist Robert Sutton. (Photo: C-CAM)
Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness in the bird-watching hide at the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation’s (C-CAM) Wetland Information Centre in the Portland Bight Protected Area. The hide is dedicated to the late Jamaican ornithologist Robert Sutton. (Photo: C-CAM)

It’s not often that Caribbean environmentalists like Diana McCaulay, CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), have serious cause for celebration. However, McCaulay and her team of “Jetters” are thrilled with the news that the Jamaican Government has decided not to proceed with a transshipment port at Goat Islands, an ecologically sensitive area in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA), the largest nature reserve on the island – and an Important Bird Area.

The port, to be constructed by China Harbour Engineering Company as part of a major logistics hub project, would have destroyed Great and Little Goat Islands, its fish sanctuaries, and mangrove forest—the largest in Jamaica and home to many endemic and resident birds such as the globally-threatened West Indian Whistling-Duck, the near-threatened Plain Pigeon, Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo, Jamaican Oriole, Jamaican Owl, Jamaican Tody, Sad Flycatcher, Jamaican Spindalis, and Jamaican Mango, all among the 17 endemics that occur in the area. The Bahama Mockingbird is only found in the PBPA in Jamaica; while Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Noddy nest on the Portland Bight cays. The area also provides critical habitat for the White-crowned Pigeon and countless migratory warblers and waterbirds. It would also have negatively impacted the breeding grounds for the critically endangered Jamaican Iguana, in the dry limestone forest habitat of the nearby Hellshire Hills.

The Bahama Mockingbird is restricted to coastal dry limestone forest in the Portland Bight Protected Area, which is the largest designated Important Bird Area in Jamaica. (Photo: Emma Lewis)
The Bahama Mockingbird is restricted to coastal dry limestone forest in the Portland Bight Protected Area, which is the largest designated Important Bird Area in Jamaica. (Photo: Emma Lewis)

An almost audible sigh of relief and delight echoed in cyberspace after Jamaica’s social media savvy Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted to JET’s CEO on September 22:

“Someone asked about Goat Island at the #TownHall. Please see response.” The attachment noted: “#TownHall Re: Question about Goat Islands. ANS: We have already taken a decision that there are other locations that would do less environmental damage. We are going ahead with a logistics port but not at Goat Island…

The Prime Minister was in Queens, New York that evening, conducting a Town Hall Meeting with Jamaicans from the diaspora. Diana McCaulay responded: “Lost for words. Wow. Am so glad. Will RT.” Finance Minister Audley Shaw subsequently tweeted a photograph of protesters with a “Save Goat Islands” placard, with the message: “Saved! The Government has listened and carefully made a decision in the best interest of Jamaica. #Governance

The decision came after over three years of hard campaigning by JET, supported by hundreds of conservation organizations and concerned individuals both at home and abroad. Diana McCaulay comments: “I was overjoyed to get the news that the Government of Jamaica is proceeding with the logistics hub, but NOT at Goat Islands. Although the campaign to Save Goat Islands has not been as high profile as it was initially, JET has continued to work behind the scenes to convince the new Jamaica Labour Party administration to relocate the planned hub due to the environmental damage it would cause. “

The Jamaican Iguana (Cyclura collei) was declared extinct in 1948. After it was rediscovered by a man and his dog, hunting wild pigs in 1990,this still critically endangered species became the subject of a successful breeding program involving a number of scientists at home and overseas. (Photo: Robin Moore)
The Jamaican Iguana (Cyclura collei) was declared extinct in 1948. After it was rediscovered by a man and his dog, hunting wild pigs in 1990,this still critically endangered species became the subject of a successful breeding program involving a number of scientists at home and overseas. (Photo: Robin Moore)

In a joint press release on September 28, the International Iguana Foundation (IIF) and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) congratulated Diana McCaulay, JET and the Jamaican Government for this happy conclusion. They noted the remarkable 25-year collaboration among several conservation organizations to recover and re-establish the Jamaican Iguana – which was deemed extinct until a hunter stumbled across one in the Hellshire Hills in 1990. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) called the ongoing breeding program “one of the greatest success stories in conservation science.” Now the possibility exists for Goat Islands to become a sanctuary for the critically endangered lizard – and a place for Jamaicans to relax and enjoy the stunning landscape and marine environment.

As celebrations quieten down a little, Diana McCaulay observes, with a note of caution: “We hope the Prime Minister will make a formal statement in Parliament, as well as hold a press conference on this and other pending environmental decisions, such as mining in Cockpit Country. We do want to know where the site of the logistics hub will be…

So champagne corks have popped, or perhaps a few rum punches have been downed. Meanwhile, McCaulay is grateful to all those who championed the #SaveGoatIslands campaign, adding: “JET thanks BirdsCaribbean for its support for the Save Goat Islands campaign.”

Magnificent Frigatebirds, Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Lisa Sorenson)
Magnificent Frigatebirds, Portland Bight Protected Area. (Photo: Lisa Sorenson)

BirdsCaribbean Executive Director, Dr. Lisa Sorenson commented, “We are elated with the news that the Goat Islands and Portland Bight Protected Area has been spared. We thank our members and partners for supporting this campaign through writing letters to the Jamaican government, signing the petition, and donating time and resources to fight the development. This is a rare conservation victory that we can all be proud of. We commend the Jamaican government for taking this sound decision that will preserve the unique and extraordinary beauty of this area for present and future generations to enjoy, as well as provide sustainable livelihoods.”

So, now the “Save Goat Islands” T shirts that environmental campaigners wore at last year’s BirdsCaribbean International Meeting in Kingston can be packed away and preserved as historical items.

And the hashtag has changed to #GoatIslandsSaved.

By Emma Lewis, Blogger, Writer and Online Activist, based in Kingston, Jamaica. Follow Emma at Petchary’s Blog—Cries from Jamaica.

Newly-trained Transboundary Grenadines Citizen Scientists Unite to form Seabird Volunteer Patrol Group

In an inspirational move towards seabird protection, concerned advocates pledge to work together to monitor and protect the seabirds and natural heritage of the Grenadine Islands. Will Mackin and colleagues share their journey in forming the Grenadines Seabird Team.  

Brown Noddies with a Roseate Tern (photo by J. Coffey)
Handsome Brown Noddies and a Roseate Tern taking a mid-day break on a rocky outcrop in the Grenadines. (photo by Julianna Coffey)

Seabirds are a common sight when you live by or work on the ocean—especially in the tiny remote islands that stretch between the “mainlands” of St. Vincent and Grenada. But residents of the transboundary Grenadines have the opportunity to gain a much deeper appreciation of these magnificent birds, particularly if they make their living from the sea. Similar to seabirds, citizens of the Grenadines practice livelihoods that are inextricably and ultimately reliant upon the marine environment. Although they live on the land, they look towards the ocean for sustenance and stability. Until recently, outsiders did not know much about seabirds on these islands, however local fishermen and naturalists knew and valued them for their beauty, fish-finding skills, ability to foretell weather events, and their eggs and meat. In recent years they noticed that many were in decline.

In 2004, scientists Hayes, Frost, Sutton, and Hay visited the Grenadines and discovered high numbers of boobies and terns, but with respect to numbers of breeding seabirds there was little other existing research. They summarized their results in a chapter in An Inventory of Breeding Seabirds in the Caribbean in 2009. Soon after, this work was followed up through the collaboration of adventurers David and Katherine Lowrie and Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC) who set out to catalog seabird colonies throughout the Lesser Antilles in the first standardized surveys of the region. These surveys resulted in the Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles, which featured firsthand visits to all the colonies and numerous newly identified sites. These surveys showed that two of the Grenadine islands—Battowia and Petit Canouan—supported globally important seabird colonies but were relatively unprotected, with birds being heavily exploited for food. Furthermore, dozens of other islands had active colonies but local residents were becoming alarmed by decreases in recent years. We accepted the challenge this presented and sought to engage local communities to learn more about how seabirds are used for food and fishing. Simultaneously we built a locally relevant and practical conservation presence in an effort to restore and protect populations.

Workshop participants taking a quiz on seabird identification. (photo by Aly DeGraff)
Workshop participants taking a quiz on seabird identification. (photo by Aly DeGraff)

In 2014, EPIC teamed up with SCIENCE (Science Initiative for Environmental Conservation and Education) and began to build a volunteer patrol team to monitor islands in the Grenadines with funds from the Protect Baby Seabirds Campaign on GlobalGiving and a Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant, slated to increase biodiversity education and capacity in St. Vincent’s Grenadines. The first workshop took place in 2015 in Paget Farm, Bequia with participants from Bequia, Mustique, Mayreau and Union Island.

This year’s workshop took place from July 22–23rd in Clifton, Union Island, with volunteers primarily from the Southern and Grenada Grenadines, including Mayreau, Union, and Carriacou (plus one participant from Mustique). This team recognized the importance of addressing the entire Grenadines from a transboundary conservation approach, since historically, culturally, and ecologically, the transboundary Grenadines are more closely related to one another than to their respective mainlands. Therefore, it was considered more valuable to work across the entire Grenadines archipelago than to use arbitrary political boundaries to define the extent of the project area (not to mention that seabirds do not care about political boundaries). With representatives from the Grenada Grenadines in attendance this year, we can now consider this initiative to be truly transboundary!

Brown Noddy chick on nest - its underside is still downy but it's head and back have feathers. (photo by Juliana Coffey)
Brown Noddy chick on nest – its underside is still downy but it’s head and back have feathers. (photo by Juliana Coffey)

The workshop included a day of presentations on seabirds and their identification, as well as a field trip for participants to learn how to collect data on breeding sites. Most of those involved were beginners with little formal training in bird identification, so the first day was devoted to teaching participants how to distinguish between the many species of seabirds that occur in the Grenadines. We discussed basic seabird biology and threats, answering questions such as: Why are seabirds doing so poorly in comparison to other bird species? What is being done to promote and protect seabirds? What kind of management activities can we implement? How is this type of citizen science data collection useful? And, most importantly, how can concerned residents within the Grenadines contribute to the conservation and management of their diminishing seabird resources?

Participants also learned how seabirds have been integral to Grenadines’ cultural heritage for many centuries, providing additional conservation rationale rooted in a cultural context. The Birds of the Transboundary Grenadines team was able to pass around a draft copy of its Grenadines bird identification guide, containing local knowledge and folklore collected between 2012–16 from residents throughout the archipelago. The first day ended with attendees taking part in an identification quiz, defining their favorite seabird, and signing a voluntary pledge to establish their commitment to the program. Many people admired the Magnificent Frigatebird for its astounding flight abilities, and the Brown Pelican was a favorite for its diving expertise.

Workshop participants proudly show their signed pledge to help protect Grenadines' seabirds. (photo by Julianna Coffey)
Workshop participants proudly show their signed pledge to help protect Grenadines’ seabirds. (photo by Julianna Coffey)

The course instructors included: Dr. Will Mackin, seabird biologist, co-chair of the Seabird Working Group of BirdsCaribbean and board member of EPIC; Lystra Culzac, founder of the St. Vincent-based NGO SCIENCE; Aly DeGraff, a cartographer for National Geographic and BirdsCaribbean, and partner on the Birds of the Transboundary Grenadines project with over five years’ experience in the Grenadines; Juliana Coffey, a seabird biologist with extensive field research and community outreach experience in the Grenadines and the founder and local knowledge expert behind the Birds of the Transboundary Grenadines project; and Wayne Smart, a Master’s Degree student at Arkansas State University who studies breeding biology of seabirds on the southernmost islands of the Grenada Grenadines.

The attendees included staff from the Sustainable Grenadines NGO and two youth members who represented their Junior Ranger program; employees of the Tobago Cays Marine Park; and local fishermen, entrepreneurs, tour guides, teachers, divers, and naturalists. We took a field trip on the second day to the Tobago Cays Marine Park. Here, we conducted sea-based surveys aboard the traditional working schooner Scaramouche around Jamesby, Petit Bateau, and Petit Rameau, and a land-based survey on Baradal to practice newly acquired field and identification skills. Participants identified Brown Boobies, Brown Noddies, Laughing Gulls, Brown Pelicans, and Bridled and Roseate Terns from the boat, and visited a nesting Brown Noddy colony on Baradal. It was a very rewarding moment when one of the most knowledgeable and experienced fishermen in the Grenadines declared in awe, “I didn’t know the birds was nesting here like this!

Juliana Coffey identifying seabirds with participants from Carriacou. (photo by Aly DeGraff)
Juliana Coffey identifying seabirds with participants from Carriacou. (photo by Aly DeGraff)

After the field trip, the team practiced using data entry forms to enter results from the surveys into the West Indian Breeding Seabird Atlas that keeps records of breeding seabirds in the Caribbean. Post-workshop evaluations indicated the participants enjoyed the discussion-based format of the training and found the identification section very helpful. They left feeling energized and excited about putting their new skills into practice to help protect seabirds. In typical Caribbean fashion, we spotted one of the workshop participants standing by the water sipping a rum punch and scanning the sea with his binoculars. As he practiced his newfound seabird identification skills, he proudly exclaimed, “I got a new hobby now!

Encouraging participants to explore their islands has enabled them to observe seabird interactions with other wildlife species and gain a greater appreciation for the natural history of their islands. One participant observed Royal Tern activity over a particular area of a beach and, when he went to investigate, he discovered their focus had been on turtle hatchlings making their first trek to the sea!

We plan to meet again in 2017, where participants from the previous two workshops will meet to discuss their observations from the 2017 breeding season and learn more survey methods. The team stays in contact through WhatsApp and Facebook groups, where they can ask questions and report sightings. Data are submitted through a standardized format, and surveyors are reimbursed for their fuel costs. With sufficient funding, EPIC would like to make these workshops an annual event, building a broader coalition of patrol members throughout the region.

Nesting Brown Noddies spotted on Baradal in the Tobago Cays on the workshop field trip. (photo by Aly DeGraff)
Nesting Brown Noddies spotted on Baradal in the Tobago Cays on the workshop field trip. (photo by Aly DeGraff)

Juliana Coffey notes, “We have been working with some of these fishermen for over five years through a shared concern for the welfare of seabirds in the Grenadines, and their continued participation in the ‘Birds of the Transboundary Grenadines’ project. We have been carefully documenting their detailed knowledge and folklore as it pertains to birds, accompanying them on field trips to offshore islands and providing them with informal support for the questions they have had. It is wonderful to finally be able to offer a more formalized training within a network of concerned individuals, so that they can realistically contribute to the fate of seabirds in the Grenadines, made possible through EPIC and SCIENCE.”

Already, the Grenadines Seabird Team has documented several threats including rats, mice, discarded fishing gear, goats and invasive grass. Some areas, such as the Sooty Tern colony at the Petit Canouan Important Bird Area, may need vegetation management; years of burning to facilitate egg collection have altered the plant composition to just a few species. We will need to carefully craft a solution with our partners to make sure the seabirds at Petit Canouan can continue to thrive. There are many opportunities for the team to initiate restoration projects to increase and enrich wildlife populations around this magnificent archipelago. We also want to provide the Grenadines Seabird Team with the necessary support, guidance and resources to allow for accurate data collection and reporting, including access to expert advice, digital cameras, and identification guides.

Equipped with their newly acquired skills and enhanced knowledge, the Grenadines Seabird Team members are now effective advocates for seabirds in their respective communities. This program offers hope for seabirds and concerned citizens in the region, and can serve as a model for other areas facing similar challenges. To support this project, please consider donating to our ongoing Protect Baby Seabirds Campaign!

by Will Mackin, Alison DeGraff, Juliana Coffey, and Natalia Collier

BirdSleuth Caribbean Brings Protection for Resident and Migratory Birds in Carriacou, Grenada

Marina Fastigi of KIDO Foundation in the Grenadines shares how they were able to transform a small island community that had never had a bird and wildlife conservation culture by engaging its younger citizens in birding activities.

Dover school teacher Mr. Allen with some of his students spotting birds in the Petit Caranage Wetland. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Dover school teacher Mr. Allen with some of his students spotting birds in the Petit Caranage Wetland. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

Based in Carriacou in the Grenadine Islands of Grenada, KIDO Foundation, a local NGO, has for years endeavored to establish a formally-recognized Bird Sanctuary in the outstanding mangrove wetland of Petite Carenage, part of High North National Park without much success. So when BirdCaribbean offered a Teacher Training Workshop, Engaging Youth in Science and Conservation, through its BirdSleuth Caribbean program – and supplied top-notch birding equipment and educational material – we took this wonderful opportunity and flew with it!

It all started in November, 2014, when Antonia Peters, our new Project Officer attended the 3-day training workshop in Nassau, Bahamas along with 23 other educators and conservationists from across the region. At the workshop, participants learned how to implement the innovative BirdSleuth curriculum, “Connecting Kids Through Birds” which was adapted for the Caribbean context by BirdsCaribbean from the BirdSleuth International curriculum developed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

The premise of the program is that birds are engaging and a fun way to get youth interested in nature, science, and inquiry-based learning. We hoped to involve our young people in the natural world and build their science skills, as well as increase their appreciation of nature and commitment to environmental stewardship. The curriculum is supported by a kit of materials for educators that contain resources and materials needed for carrying out the lessons, such as laminated bird silhouettes, identification cards, games, field guides, binoculars and spotting scopes, art and craft supplies, and much more.

One of the first activities at the workshop is creating a birding notebook with hand-drawn artwork. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
One of the first activities at the workshop is creating a birding notebook with hand-drawn artwork. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

After Antonia attended the training workshop in Nassau, we were ready to deliver our own local workshops. Given many local residents’ hectic daily schedules, we sought out a number of potential stakeholders, from the Ministry of Education to small primary schools tucked away behind the mountain range. Our phone bill grew exponentially, however, we received positive commitments from 14 teachers of the Carriacou and Petit Martinique primary schools, the Ministry of Education, 4H Club, and NADMA (National Disaster Management Agency) personnel.

On November 19, 20 & 21, 2015, KIDO Foundation, in collaboration with the Grenada Fund for Conservation (GFC) and Education Conservation Outreach (ECO), held a three-day workshop for a group of Carriacou and Petit Martinique educators, in how to use the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. Antonia and her team were excited to pass on their knowledge to our interested and lively educators so that they would in turn teach their youths how to study, appreciate and conserve Caribbean birds.

Teachers practice bird identification outdoors at KIDO Foundation and record their observations in their birding notebooks. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Teachers practice bird identification outdoors at KIDO Foundation and record their observations in their birding notebooks. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

During the workshop, held at our green hilltop KIDO Environmental Learning Center, seven teachers participated in the first two days, and on the third they enjoyed a bird watching field trip to the new Bird Sanctuary, located in the Petit Carenage wetland area (some 100 forested acres, part of High North proposed National Park). They also visited Big Pond, another birding stopover, tucked among tall trees near the hamlet of Dover, close to Petit Carenage. The vice-principal of Dover Primary School also participated in the field trip, emphasizing his experience and passion for nature protection on his beloved island, in particular Petit Carenage Wetland and the adjacent  turtle nesting beach and protected coastline.

Mount Pleasant child at the spotting scope with ever watchful KIDO co-founder Dario Sandrini. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Mount Pleasant child at the spotting scope with ever watchful KIDO co-founder Dario Sandrini. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

The participants enjoyed the hands-on learning activities, peppered with sharply humored interventions, both in the classroom and during field trip activities. By the end of the three-day session they also came up with two new projects, formalized in two groups (schools from the south and north of Carriacou), direct off-shoots of the BirdSleuth Caribbean training.

The northern group proposed to create several shelters and waterholes for birds in the Mt. Pleasant, Windward and Dover areas, to help them during the long and often dramatically waterless dry season. Also on the agenda was the prevention of topsoil erosion along the coast by planting red mangroves and large shade trees, as well as launching a clean-up campaign at the community level to remove plastic litter from the mangroves.

Teacher Mr. Matheson and a few of his keen birding team members from Mount Pleasant observe birds from our blind. (Photo by Marina Fastigi).
Teacher Mr. Matheson and a few of his keen birding team members from Mount Pleasant observe birds from our blind. (Photo by Marina Fastigi).

The southern group reinforced the idea of a bird haven by suggesting the construction of bird houses around all the schools of Carriacou, as well as planting native flower and fruit trees around school yards to attract more birds. They also proposed conducting an awareness campaign on bird conservation among kids and parents, 4H clubs, and in the wider community. Ms Lynette Kisha Isaac of M.O.E. asked for birdhouses and watering dishes to be placed around their church yard, and with regards to the BirdSleuth workshop commented, “It was very interactive and informative and learning involved many facets: speaking, viewing, doing.”

 

Hillsborough Government School show off their bird identification cards in the new Petite Carenage Turtle and Bird Sanctuary gazebo. (photo by Davon Baker)
Hillsborough Government School show off their bird identification cards in the new Petite Carenage Turtle and Bird Sanctuary gazebo. (photo by Davon Baker)

We strongly believe that such conservation projects would not have been conceived and formulated had the BirdSleuth Training Torkshop not taken place in Nassau. Several teachers reportedly taught the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum and practiced bird conservation with their students utilizing the materials provided despite their busy curriculum. With their students they joined KIDO staff, expertly assisted by two KIDO university volunteers from Chicago, on exciting birding trips along the new Bird Sanctuary trails of Petit Carenage, which had also recently been supported by street signage from the Ministry of Tourism, being an important asset for Carriacou.

 

Trained educators receive their certificate of achievement at KIDO. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Trained educators receive their certificate of achievement at KIDO. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

All in all, to date, 261 children, 25 teachers and nine community members participated in the BirdSleuth Caribbean program, which was enthusiastically received by children, and word spread that the bird-watching program was so much fun that the youths did not want to leave – even after several hours. The use of binoculars and the Vortex scope really helped awaken their interest in Carriacou’s resident and migratory birds. Vivid close-up observations of our island’s breathtaking birds generated awe and surprise that Carriacou is home to such hidden natural treasures.

 

Birding trainees from 4 primary schools enter the Bird Sanctuary of Petit Carnage. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Birding trainees from 4 primary schools enter the Bird Sanctuary of Petit Carnage. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

 

When youth are provided the opportunity to quietly observe and learn about birds in their natural habitat, they appreciate their precious role in the web of life. Only by understanding the interdependence of all species, including humans, can children genuinely care for them and help to conserve island biodiversity, engaging their teachers and families in the process. Form 3 student and keen birder Anthony Matheson said about BirdSleuth in Carriacou: “It was an invigorating experience that brought us closer to nature and closer to ourselves.”

KIDO will continue to provide assistance to the trainers and educators in order to continue the BirdSleuth Caribbean program with new students, as well as help teachers and students of Carriacou Primary Schools to build houses and water bowls for resident birds. Bird activity around schools and churches will be monitored, by counting and identifying resident and migratory birds in the mangrove Bird Sanctuary of Petit Carenage and Big Pond, and mangroves will be planted in critical areas in order to protect the bird sanctuary.

Stilt Sandpiper at the Petit Caranage Wetland in Carriacou, one of the many species that can be seen at the site. (Photo by Lisa Sorenson)
Stilt Sandpiper at the Petit Caranage Wetland in Carriacou, one of the many species that can be seen at the site. (Photo by Lisa Sorenson)

We wish to thank BirdsCaribbean, Optics of the Tropics, and the Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act (NMBCA) fund of the US Fish & Wildlife Service for the funds, equipment and materials provided to complete this exciting project and create a birding and nature conservation culture in our community. More photos of our BirdSleuth Caribbean program in Carriacou may be viewed at YWF-KIDO Foundation Facebook page.

 

Marina Fastigi, is the Director of KIDO Foundation, in Carriacou, Grenada.

 

Children learn about the challenges of migration and breeding successfully in the Bird Survivor game, part of the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Children learn about the challenges of migration and breeding successfully in the Bird Survivor game, part of the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Harvey Vale schoolchildren behind the Blind to spot birds feeding in the Petit Caranage wetland. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Harvey Vale schoolchildren behind the Blind to spot birds feeding in the Petit Caranage wetland. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Education Officer Antonia Peters teaching how to identify by birds by their size and shape to the junior group at KIDO. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Education Officer Antonia Peters teaching how to identify by birds by their size and shape to the junior group at KIDO. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Children drawing their favorite bird on their notebook cover at KIDO. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Children drawing their favorite bird on their notebook cover at KIDO. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Learning parts of a bird exercise at KIDO Foundation with secondary school students. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Learning parts of a bird exercise at KIDO Foundation with secondary school students. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Mount Pleasant group, a brilliant lot instructed by teacher Mr. Matheson, spot birds in the Petit Caranage wetland. (photo by Marina Fastigi)
Mount Pleasant group, a brilliant lot instructed by teacher Mr. Matheson, spot birds in the Petit Caranage wetland. (photo by Marina Fastigi)

Join the Crowd and Support Caribbean Seabirds!

Seabirds are among the most endangered of all vertebrate groups. A new crowdfunding campaign is underway to support three critical scientific projects that will drive new discoveries and aid conservation of these most amazing birds. Please help us succeed!

Roseate Tern, a seabird of conservation concern. (photo by Jenny Daltry)
Roseate Tern, a seabird of conservation concern that breeds in the Caribbean. (photo by Jenny Daltry)

Three projects that will advance conservation of Caribbean seabirds via a crowdfunding grant have just been launched by BirdsCaribbean biologists. Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet. According to a study by Massolutions.com, the crowdfunding industry is on track to account for more funding in 2016 than traditional venture capital sources (wealthy investors or financial institutions)! The websites, Kickstarter or Indiegogo, are two of the most well-known crowdsourcing websites, but there are many other sites.

Experiment.com is a crowdfunding site that focuses on promoting “science for the people, by the people.” It recently launched an initiative focused on seabirds, a group of wildlife urgently in need of science-based conservation. The call went out to BirdsCaribbean’s Seabird Working Group to consider projects. Three Caribbean seabird projects were submitted, accepted and are now ready to receive your backing!

The Mystery of the Disappearing Seabirds: Using Science to Protect Caribbean Seabirds

Seabird colony in the northern Bahamas. (photo by Will Mackin).
Seabird colony in the northern Bahamas. (photo by Will Mackin).

This project will seek the causes behind the disappearance of thousands of breeding seabirds in the Northern Bahamas. The project leaders, Will Mackin, Ann Sutton, Margo Zdravkovic, Lisa Sorenson, and Scott Johnson, will use surveys and mark-recapture techniques to find out whether the missing seabirds moved, suffered nesting failure due to invasive predators, or changed their behavior due to disturbance…or some combination of the above. The project builds on work underway by Conservian, an NGO which began a new monitoring and habitat restoration program for coastal birds in the Bahamas in 2016.

Seeking Safer Skies for Haiti’s Rarest Seabird

Habitat in Haiti for the Black-capped Petrel.
Habitat in Haiti for the Black-capped Petrel.

The endangered Diablotin, or Black-Capped Petrel, is the focus of this project. Françoise Benjamin and Juan Carlos Martínez-Sánchez seek to reduce collisions of petrels at communication towers along their breeding colonies in Southern Haiti, a threat brought to light by the International Black-capped Petrel Conservation Group. They will map and characterize communication towers located along known flying corridors and colonies of petrels, record bird collisions through personal observations and interviews, then take their findings to government and industry in order to recommend solutions to this concerning source of mortality.

What Factors Are Causing Seabird Declines in the Grenadines?

Booby chick in the Grenadines.
Booby chick in the Grenadines.

Wayne Smart and Natalia Collier want to determine the causes of documented declines in southern Grenadine seabird populations. In specific, they will look at how human and rat predation affects trends in six different seabird populations located north of Grenada. The findings of this project will be summarized, and made available to the public, and government agencies, in order to recommend and stimulate conservation actions.

Each of these projects has a specific fundraising goal. With Experiment.com, as with most crowdfunding sites, funding is all-or-nothing (that is, pledges by backers are collected only if the fundraising goal is achieved). Experiment.com has designated this initiative as a funding “challenge,” in that it will award additional funds to the three projects (of 15 total seabird projects) that have received the greatest number of backers by 6 PM on August 9th.

So don’t delay – Please support one or all of these worthy projects! Small donations from many people are most welcome as this will help all of us to be in the top 3 of seabird supported projects and win extra funds.

We thank you in advance for your support!

Will Mackin, Ann Sutton, Margo Zdravkovic, Lisa Sorenson, Scott Johnson, Françoise Benjamin, Juan Carlos Martínez-Sánchez, Wayne Smart and Natalia Collier
Members of BirdsCaribbean Seabird Working Group

p.s. Please share this post with your networks, colleagues and friends!

Conserving Bahamas Beach-Nesting Birds and Habitats

Margo Zdravkovic shares her adventures from Conservian’s 2016 Bahamas Shorebird Conservation Expedition

Fair Winds and Full Sails

Living the dream—Margo Z. on the bow of the Dream Catcher. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Living the dream—Margo Z. on the bow of the Dream Catcher. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

On the evening of April 27th, the Dreamcatcher’s captain, John Duke, and I sat at the 75-foot schooner’s large, wooden, galley table. With the sun setting over our research vessel, we studied charts and made final adjustments to plans that had been years in the making. We sailed out of Key West on the 26th, following the Florida Keys north, our schooner efficiently loaded with food, water, gear, and materials for the expedition. At sunrise we would set out and cross to Bimini, entering the infamous Bermuda Triangle. By the 29th we would clear Bahamian Customs in Freeport.

The five week long, 900-mile round-trip expedition would take us to the far reaches of the Bahama’s northern islands, including Grand Bahama Island, Great Abaco, the Atlantic Abaco Cays, and the Berry Islands. Anchored out, the nighttime sky was clear and endlessly full of constellations not easily seen from land. For me, sleep off the Florida coast tonight would be difficult, but essential. The dream was actually happening. At sunrise, with the invaluable partnerships and cooperation of so many, Conservian’s 2016 Bahamas Shorebird Conservation Expedition would, at last, become reality.

2016 Navigational Route of the Dream Catcher (Image © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic & Google Earth)
2016 Navigational Route of the Dream Catcher (Image © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic & Google Earth)

Bahamas Conservation Vision
Conservian’s mission is to conserve coastal birds and their habitats throughout the western hemisphere. The Bahamas archipelago is comprised of more than 700 islands and cays, and thousands of miles of sandy shorelines, sand flats, mud flats, and mangroves, possessing prime habitat for migratory and breeding shorebirds, much of it yet unexplored. Even now in 2016, as human-created pressures increase globally, very little information exists on many species of shorebirds in the Bahamas, particularly solitary beach-nesting birds like the Wilson’s Plover.

Wilson’s Plover chicks. (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)
Wilson’s Plover chicks. (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)

Why should anyone be concerned about such species? Well, the Wilson’s Plover can be thought of as a “canary in a coal mine” or species that indicates the diversity level of a specific coastal habitat. To thrive, the Wilson’s Plover, much like the endangered Piping Plover, needs healthy coastal habitats that are protected from human-caused disturbance. Plovers are fairly resilient and do well if provided with a safe stretch of coastal habitat to hatch nests and raise young. Protection for plover species can also act as an “umbrella” to benefit other coastally-dependent species.

American Oystercatcher with young (Photo by J. Gray)
American Oystercatcher with young (Photo by J. Gray)
Least Tern parents feeding young. (Photo by J. Gray)
Least Tern parents feeding young. (Photo by J. Gray)

The seedling concept for Conservian’s shorebird habitat conservation work in the Bahamas had taken root in 2011 during face-to-face discussions with Bahamas National Trust and other partners at the BirdsCaribbean International Conference on Grand Bahama Island. Later that year the Dream Catcher partnership began with Captain Duke’s idea of a live-aboard expedition. In 2014 LightHawk funded Conservian’s Bahamas aerial surveys that provided essential habitat data necessary to begin on-the-ground work. Discussions and planning continued through 2015 at the BirdsCaribbean Conference in Jamaica, where Conservian was invited to present a vision for new shorebird conservation work in the Bahamas. Resulting partnerships led to a cooperative Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act grant award which will help fund the project through 2017. The International Conservation Fund of Canada is also a key supporting partner of Conservian’s Bahamas conservation work.

Aerial of shorebird habitat, Long Island. (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)
Aerial of shorebird habitat, Long Island. (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)

With the start of our expedition Conservian and partners would begin the first program in the Bahamas to implement on-the-ground protective measures to limit human-caused disturbance to beach-nesting birds, and initiate control of invasive Casuarina pine at key shorebird and seabird sites. We would accomplish these goals by working together in the field with our local partners and community members to conserve the Bahamas coastal treasures.

Our Research Vessel

Fair winds and full sails-crossing to Bimini! (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)
Fair winds and full sails-crossing to Bimini! (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)

Designed in 1996 by Captain Duke, the Dreamcatcher schooner, our home and floating field station, proved, as planned, the most efficient way to transport our crew, field equipment, and materials throughout the northern Bahamas archipelago. Solidly built of steel, she made a perfect expedition vessel. Her 20-foot beam provided great stability in open waters, yet her shallow, 5-foot draft allowed us close approach to our targeted landing areas. For ferrying field crew and equipment to shore we towed a traditional, custom-crafted, 30-foot, wooden longboat, the “Aida”, built by Captain Duke.

The expedition was planned for the month of May. After our three-day Atlantic crossing with only essential sailing crew, each week saw a new volunteer field team fly into Bahamian airports to join the project. The first team member, and one of our expedition photographers, arrived on Sunday May 1, followed by our first week’s crew on Monday at Freeport International Airport. Conservian’s team and ship’s crew adapted quickly to shared onboard duties of cooking, cleaning, and sailing.

Thirty-foot longboat “Aida” was used to ferry field crew and equipment to shore. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Thirty-foot longboat “Aida” was used to ferry field crew and equipment to shore. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
All hands on deck! Sails up! With Conservian’s volunteer crew. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
All hands on deck! Sails up! With Conservian’s volunteer crew. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

Each morning, we’d awake early to the welcome aroma of the Captain’s freshly brewed coffee along with views of golden sunrises, open horizons, and almost impossibly vibrant turquoise water surrounds. Each night and each following morning, Captain Duke and I, along with first mate Andrew, would review planned navigation routes and logistics for the schooner and longboat, as well as deployment and retrieval plans for field crew and equipment.

Logistical planning with Capt Duke, Margo, and 1st mate Andrew. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Logistical planning with Capt Duke, Margo, and 1st mate Andrew. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

Key elements of our mission on every island we visited centered on conducting surveys for beach-nesting bird target species and habitat assessments for human-caused disturbance. In planned areas, we posted signs to alert beach-goers to the presence of beach-nesting birds to reduce disturbance to birds, nests, and chicks. We made new friends wherever we went as the Bahamian locals were very interested in our expedition, desired to help, expressed appreciation, and discussed the future.

Posting beach-nesting bird sites with local volunteers (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Posting beach-nesting bird sites with local volunteers (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)

Challenges in the Field

Conservian field team loading into longboat. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Conservian field team loading into longboat. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

During survey work, we typically divided into smaller field teams of two or three, to cover the maximum area possible. Reaching shorebird sites, first by water and then by land, often proved to be our toughest daily task. Challenges began with finding suitably calm waters for team drop offs.

To reach potential habitat on islands with Atlantic beachfront, we often hiked on overgrown trails, through vegetated terrain, and across rocky shorelines. We made use of a variety of land-based transportation modes, from rental van and taxis to hitch-hiking on local golf-carts.

We walked many miles enduring May’s tropical heat, humidity, and biting insects while searching for beach-nesting birds or posting shorebird sites. Rewards, were abundant, however, with exciting new data collected, new shorebird sites posted, frequent nest and chick sightings, and unforgettable vistas of Caribbean sands and seas, as well as an occasional quick dip in the blue to cool off. Often when the Dreamcatcher was anchored off shore, our adventurous and productive days ended with a boat-side swim or snorkel in the clear, near-shore waters followed by a hearty meal from the galley, or on-deck barbecue, jointly prepared by the group.

Field team collecting new data on Grand Bahama’s north shore. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Field team collecting new data on Grand Bahama’s north shore. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Margo’s mermaids cooling off after a hot day of field work. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Margo’s mermaids cooling off after a hot day of field work. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

Field Successes

Prime beach-nesting bird habitat within mangrove wetlands. (Photo © Conservian/ R. Bjork)
Prime beach-nesting bird habitat within mangrove wetlands. (Photo © Conservian/ R. Bjork)

We conducted ground surveys for beach-nesting birds on 29 islands and cays, collecting new data on habitats, and breeding abundance and distribution. Local volunteer stewards participated in ground surveys and assisted with posting and signing of imperiled shorebird areas. Noted conservationist Erika Gates and her dedicated volunteers joined us aboard the Dreamcatcher for a sign posting mini-expedition to protect Bridled Terns at Peterson Cay National Park, where Conservian also conducted Casuarina eradication. On Grand Bahama Island and Great Abaco, by invitation, we gave educational presentations, speaking about Conservian’s shorebird work and the expedition.

Wilson’s Plover nest. (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)
Wilson’s Plover nest. (Photo © Conservian/ Margo Zdravkovic)
Wilson’s Plover male. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Wilson’s Plover male. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Casuarina pine training and control at Lucaya National Park, Grand Bahama Is. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Casuarina pine training and control at Lucaya National Park, Grand Bahama Is. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)

With assistance from Ellsworth Weir, manager of Lucaya National Park, we conducted a pilot project to control the invasive species Casuarina pine, which has spread throughout the Bahamas eroding beaches and destroying shorebird habitat. Conservian provided in-the-field Casuarina control training for staff from the Bahamas National Trust and Bahamas Public Parks and Beaches Authority. Our local Casuarina control team began eradication at Lucaya National Park’s Gold Rock Beach with herbicide donated to the project by Dow AgroScience.

Casuarina pine training and control at Lucaya National Park, Grand Bahama Is. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Casuarina pine training and control at Lucaya National Park, Grand Bahama Is. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Our Casuarina pine control team at Gold Rock Beach, Lucaya National Park. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Our Casuarina pine control team at Gold Rock Beach, Lucaya National Park. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)

Conservian’s Bahamas cooperative shorebird conservation work is a new and innovative program with long-term objectives for conserving and protecting the natural coastal resources of the Bahamas through directed assistance and local capacity building. With essential support from our partners BirdsCaribbean, Bahamas National Trust, local volunteer coordinators Erika Gates, Honorable Pericles Maillis, Dr. Elwood Bracey, Shamie Rolle, and many others, we were able to accomplish major project objectives during our first year of the project. Our present and future successes are attributable in great measure to our increasing family of supporting partners, whom we look forward to working with again soon.

Erika’s volunteers at Peterson Cay National Park. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)
Erika’s volunteers at Peterson Cay National Park. (Photo © Conservian/ Maureen Lilla)

Bahamas 2017!
In May 2017, Conservian/Coastal Bird Conservation will embark on our second Bahamas conservation expedition in the northern Bahamas. Keep a weather eye on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CoastalBirdConservation for our other project updates and message us or email margoZ@coastalbird.org for information on joining Conservian’s conservation team on our next adventure.

Our Supporting Partner Organizations and Individuals

Margo Z. on Dream Catcher’s mast. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Margo Z. on Dreamcatcher’s mast. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

BirdsCaribbean, Bahamas National Trust, International Conservation Fund of Canada, US Fish and Wildlife Service/Neotropical Migratory Bird Conservation Act Grant, LightHawk, Dream Catcher Coastal Sailing Adventures, Dow AgroSciences, Grand Bahama Nature Tours, Optics for the Tropics, Grand Bahama Port Authority, Bahamas Public Parks & Beaches Authority, Bahamas Environment, Science & Technology Commission, Rand Nature Center, Abaco Friends of the Environment, Treasure Cay Community Center, Royal Bahamas Police Force/Marine Support, University of Florida, University of Miami, Mobile Bay Audubon Society, Atlantic Design Homes.

Honorable Pericles Maillis, Dr. Lisa Sorenson, Eric Carey, Erika Gates, Captain John O. Duke, Dr. Elwood Bracey, Shamie Rolle, Ellsworth Weir, Linda Barry-Cooper, Keith Kemp, James Madison Roswell, Andrew McDowell, Thomas Wilmers, Lee Pagni, Daniel Leckie, William Gravitter, Robert Gravitter, Edward Guerry, David Cummins, David L’Hereux, and Thomas Wilmers. Conservian 2016 Supporting Volunteer Crew: Maureen Lilla, Scott Hecker, Alexandra Newton, Tyler Kovacs, Emma Rhodes, Shona Lawson, Dawn Rasmussen, Carolyn Wardle, Janet Vertin, Robyn Darley, Robin Bjork, Ben Bowman, Pete Monte, Corina McBride, Coralina Meyer, Mihala Reedy, Charla Lower, Susan Silvia, Louis Wray.

Dreamcatcher anchored out at Sunset, Great Guana Cay, Abaco. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)
Dreamcatcher anchored out at Sunset, Great Guana Cay, Abaco. (Photo © Conservian/ Scott Hecker)

Empowering Youth to Garden for Wildlife in Grand Bahama

Erika Gates is an inspiring powerhouse whose work in the Bahamas has not gone unnoticed. She has been involved in a multitude of projects in Grand Bahama to raise awareness, restore native habitats and foster sustainable tourism. This article highlights one of her successful campaigns—certifying Lucaya International School as a wildlife habitat.

Wetland Trail team with Dr. Batemann, Marilyn Laing, and Erika Gates displaying the certification sign.
Wetland Trail team with Dr. Batemann, Marilyn Laing, and Erika Gates displaying the certification sign.

Last year, Erika suggested to Lucaya International School’s (LIS) headmaster and board to get the school certified as a Wildlife Habitat. Erika had certified her own backyard garden a few years back and thought, “Why not get youth involved in creating habitat for birds and wildlife at their school?”

The National Wildlife Federation’s Garden for Wildlife Program helps people to restore habitat and wildlife populations to our cities, towns and neighborhoods. It encourages schools to create outdoor classrooms where educators and students learn how to attract and support local wildlife. These wildlife habitats become places where students not only learn about wildlife species and ecosystems, but also hone their academic skills and nurture innate curiosity and creativity.

Marilyn Laing and Chad Haddad pruning a tree in the LIS schoolyard. (photo by Erika Gates)
Marilyn Laing and Chad Haddad pruning a tree in the LIS schoolyard. (photo by Erika Gates)

To meet the criteria for certification, the students had to create a wildlife habitat that provides a number of specific elements for each of the following habitat essentials: food, water, cover, places to raise young, and sustainable practices. The site also needed to be used as a teaching tool.

Work began in October 2015 to prepare a portion of the school grounds as a bird and butterfly habitat. A trail, extended dock and observation tower were also created at the wonderfully productive wetland.

Marilyn Laing of Garden of the Groves and Erika provided assistance with the program and helped the students select appropriate native plants that provide nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies, as well as berries and fruit for birds. They instructed them in pruning the existing trees in the habitat area, preparing the ground, composting and planting. Two birdbaths provided the water feature, and bird feeders were installed.

Sophila Clark, Jim Pierson and Brickelle Sands mulch the area after planting (photo by Erika Gates)
Sophila Clark, Jim Pierson and Brickelle Sands mulch the area after planting (photo by Erika Gates)

While the Gardening Team was led by teacher Martin Suarez, the Wetland Trail Team was led by Dr. Sylvia Bateman. The school is fortunate to be located adjacent to a wetland, a perfect outdoor classroom for bird observation, water sampling and plant biodiversity. This location was enhanced by Dr. Bateman’s team through the creation of a trail along its southern shoreline. A boardwalk and dock for better access into the wetland was built and donated by Grand Bahama Nature Tours. The students’ team created an observation stand for better viewing of the wetland, and the site also received the Wildlife Habitat Certification.

Year 5 class birding from the dock at LIS wetland (photo by Erika Gates)
Year 5 class birding from the dock at LIS wetland (photo by Erika Gates)

The certified Garden and Wetland Wildlife Habitats at Lucaya International School have already become outdoor classrooms for librarian Susan Krupica’s Year 5 and 6 birding classes. Ms. Krupica has been trained by BirdsCaribbean through their BirdSleuth Caribbean program to teach young children how to spot, identify and record birds as well as submit them into eBird Caribbean, a real-time online checklist program used by birders and ornithologists all over the world to gather basic information on bird abundance and distribution. Over the past six months LIS has submitted observations of 48 different bird species! Erika was delighted to accompany and lecture the young birders on their fieldtrips. BirdsCaribbean sponsored the BirdSleuth educational materials and also provided the binoculars for the Birding Class.

A pair of Black-necked Stilts nested at the LIS school wetland this spring. (photo by Erika Gates)
A pair of Black-necked Stilts nested at the LIS school wetland this spring. (photo by Erika Gates)

Dr. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean, stated, “The Garden for Wildlife program combined with birding and science activities in the BirdSleuth Caribbean curriculum provides a hands-on way for youth in learn about and care for the birds and nature all around them. It also provides much-needed habitat for wildlife, every little bit helps! Congratulations to the LIS school and Garden of the Groves for this initiative—it’s a wonderful model for other schools around the Caribbean to follow.”

Over 300 schools participate in the National Wildlife Federation program in the United States but Lucaya International School is the first school in the Bahamas to have received the Wildlife Habitat Certification.

Mr. Michael Lowerey, Principal of the school, commented: “Students need an area in which they can take the theory learned in the classroom and put it into practice. These two areas give our students a hands-on learning experience. We are so grateful to have the assistance of Erika Gates and The Garden of Groves and all of their expertise. The outdoor classrooms also allow our students to receive a better understanding of our island and all of its resources and how important the environment is for our future.”

Erika Gates is owner and operator of Garden of the Groves, Grand Bahama Nature Tours and Grand Bahama Birders’ Bed and Breakfast. She also serves as a Board member of BirdsCaribbean. A free eBook is available from BirdsCaribbean: “Heritage Plants: Native Trees and Plants for Birds and People in the Caribbean.” This illustrated book explains the importance of native trees to birds and other animals, includes a guide featuring dozens of native trees of particular value, and serves as a resource to foster habitat restoration within local communities. It is available in English and Spanish at this page.

Certified Wildlife Habitat signs are placed in the school's gardening area and along the wetland trail. (photo by Erika Gates)
Certified Wildlife Habitat signs are placed in the school’s gardening area and along the wetland trail. (photo by Erika Gates)
Greater- and Lesser Yellowlegs fly from Alaska to spend the winter at LIS wetland (photo by Erika Gates)
Greater- and Lesser Yellowlegs fly from Alaska to spend the winter at LIS wetland (photo by Erika Gates)
Blue-winged Teal migrate in large flocks from Canada to LIS wetland.
Blue-winged Teal migrate in large flocks from Canada to LIS wetland.
Zebra Longwing butterfly on Jatropha, a genus of flowering plant in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. (photo by Erika Gates)
Zebra Longwing butterfly on Jatropha, a genus of flowering plants in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. (photo by Erika Gates)
Year 5 class at Lucayan International School observing and studying birds at the school grounds. (photo by Erika Gates)
Year 5 class at Lucayan International School observing and studying birds at the school grounds. (photo by Erika Gates)
Cattle Egrets at the playing field. (photo by Erika Gates)
Cattle Egrets at the playing field. (photo by Erika Gates)
Members of the Eco Gardening Team (standing) with Mr. Suarez receiving sign by Erika and Marilyn on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation. Sitting in front are the LIS Birding students with Ms. Krupica.
Members of the Eco Gardening Team (standing) with Mr. Suarez receiving sign by Erika and Marilyn on behalf of the National Wildlife Federation. Sitting in front are the LIS Birding students with Ms. Krupica.
Julia butterfly on Golden Dewdrop. (photo by Erika Gates)
Julia butterfly on Golden Dewdrop. (photo by Erika Gates)