Last week, Ted Eubanks and I (Holly Robertson, Project Manager of the Caribbean Birding Trail) were turned loose in Antigua and Barbuda to assess the country’s birding resources…or in other words, bird every nook and cranny that we could find. Along the way, Ted snapped gorgeous photos of Caribbean and Lesser Antillean endemics: Antillean Crested Hummingbird, Caribbean Elaenia, the Barbuda Warbler and more.
The resource assessment was conducted by Ted Eubanks on behalf of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), with the goal of providing a practical plan to conserve these resources through the development of a successful birding eco-tourism component of the nation’s tourism sector.
Each day Ted uploaded photos to the Caribbean Birding Trail Facebook page, to the apparent delight of thousands of viewers. The most popular photo by far was that of the Yellow Warbler, garnering over 10,000 views in mere days! One possible reason, besides it being a stellar photo, is that the Yellow Warbler is a species that many people can see and identify in their country. The Yellow Warbler is a species that has radiated throughout the islands from a single ancestor, and has adapted and proliferated.
The immediate response on Facebook demonstrates not only the magnetism of birds and their ability to amass admirers, but also the role social media can play in showcasing the natural resources of Antigua and Barbuda, and the Caribbean as a whole.
The resource assessment took place from April 27 to May 4. In that time, Mr. Eubanks and I lapped the island not once, but a few times. He also visited Barbuda and the offhsore islands of Lobster, Redhead, Rabbit and Great Bird.
Key stops on the islands for us were areas known for their importance in supporting significant populations of a variety of bird species. These areas included sites like McKinnon’s Saltpond, Walling’s Forest, Darkwood, and Christian Valley on Antigua, and Two Foot Bay and Codrington Lagoon in Barbuda. These places provide food, shelter and breeding grounds to eleven species (of 38) that are unique to the Lesser Antilles and several more that are unique to the entire Caribbean region. These birds are known as endemics: they exist nowhere else in the world and are truly one of a kind. The Barbuda Warbler is particularly special, because it exists exclusively on the island of Barbuda. This bird evolved with the island and adapted to its conditions, just as humans here have done since the time of the Amerindians.
Not all Caribbean birds are permanent residents, species that are limited to one island or group of islands for their entire lives. Other species, such as the seabirds, only visit the islands to breed. Some migrate to the islands from breeding grounds in North America and stay for the entire winter (as long as nine months). Others pass through, remaining only long enough to replenish depleted fat stores and then continue south, like the Spotted Sandpiper. In each case, the Caribbean islands offer critical habitats and sites for birds that otherwise have little to depend on other than the vast open waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Now that the assessment is complete, Mr. Eubanks will draft a report that details his findings and identifies needs for developing bird tourism. This could needs such as signage, boardwalks, and blinds for photography. It may also include improvements to birding sites aimed at increasing numbers of nesting or visiting birds, or food plants specific for certain species of interest.
Mr. Eubanks will return to Antigua this June to present the report in a two-day workshop to birding interests, tourism sector stakeholders and tourism policy makers. The format of the workshop will allow for ample question and answer time, so that stakeholders may provide feedback and input that can be incorporated into the report and subsequent plans.
To stay involved with the project and to see more photographs from the trip, visit the CBT’s facebook page at: www.facebook.com/caribbeanbirdingtrail and EAG’s page at: www.facebook.com/EnvironmentalAwarenessGroup.