From Partner News

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

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

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

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

Yellow-crowned:

Orange-winged:

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

A human archnemesis

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

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

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

Vocalizations: an unsung hero

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

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

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

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

How can you help parrots in the wild?

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

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

 

Bird Dispatches from the Hurricane Front Lines

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

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

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

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

BARBUDA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BAHAMAS

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

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

CUBA

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

DOMINICA

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

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

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

GUADELOUPE

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

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

 

 

ST. EUSTATIUS

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

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

SINT MAARTEN

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

ST. MARTIN

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

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

BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS

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

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

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

PUERTO RICO

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

Scroll over or click on the photos for captions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)