Why #WaterbirdsCount: March

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As part of our campaign to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the International Waterbird Census, we asked our partners to share their favourite images of wetlands and waterbirds. This month BirdsCaribbean shares photos and stories from the Caribbean Waterbird Census.

The Caribbean: sparkling white beaches, azure seas and clear blue skies make the perfect holiday destination … for waterbirds! Every year, huge numbers of waterbirds migrate from the arctic to spend the northern winter in the Caribbean islands or as a short stop before continuing south to the Neotropics. They join a number of rare endemic species, like the West Indian Whistling-Duck or Caribbean Coot in the mangroves, marshes, salt ponds, sandy beaches, mud and tidal flats spread across the Caribbean. Sadly, like many other parts of the world these wetlands and the lives they support are threatened by human activities. Monitoring wetland sites and species is crucial to identify the drivers behind loss and decline but also to ensure protection and inform conservation efforts. BirdsCaribbean and national partners jointly conduct the Caribbean Waterbird Census every January-February as part of an effort to identify, protect and conserve the Caribbean’s unique wetlands and waterbirds. The photos kindly provided below highlight both the importance of their work and the beauty of Caribbean nature. Inspired to help or find out more? Visit the BirdsCaribbean website, read the press release on the success of the 2016 Caribbean Waterbird Census, and don’t forget to check out our other blogs to find out why #waterbirdscount!

Armed with binoculars, ID cards, Bird guides and lots of enthusiasm, over 30 persons participated in the Piping Plover and Caribbean Waterbird Census. Bahamians and international researchers and volunteers from The #Bahamas National Trust, The College of The Bahamas, Audubon Society, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Park Service, Conservation Wildlife Foundation and others participated in the census. Together they counted over 1260 Piping Plovers, over 200 more than what was seen in the 2011 census. They also observed a wide variety of shorebirds such as Western Sandpipers Pipers, Semipalmated Plovers, Snowy Plovers, Short-billed Dowitchers, Wilson’s Plovers, Dunlins, Tricolored Herons, Green Herons, Great-blue Herons, Royal Terns, and even a Tundra Swan! They also saw several Reddish Egrets and American Oystercatchers, both species of High Concern in the US. We are grateful to the Bahamas National Trust for sharing their experience and this wonderful photo of a piping plover with us, and they wish to thank all the participants and volunteers who assisted in this record breaking year in The Bahamas for Piping Plovers. #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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Sustainable Grenadines Inc conducted its 2016 CWC, with Orisha Joseph and Kristy Shortte teaming up with Union Island Environmental Attackers’ President and local bird expert Katrina Collins-Coy. During observations at the Ashton Lagoon Area, one of Union Islands’ birding hotspots, a total of 18 species (193 birds) were counted in a two-hour survey. At Belmont salt pond, 12 species (72 birds) were counted in the wetland area. During observations no migratory species or banded birds were counted, however the observers are always anxious to spot new birds while birding. They hope to see many different species of birds as the year unfolds. Thanks to Kristy Shortte for sharing her story and this great photo of a Ruddy Turnstone from their 2016 CWC. Keep up the excellent work! #UnionIsland #Grenadines #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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Thanks to Andrea Otto from Antigua's Environmental Awareness Group for sharing their experience with this year's CWC survey! This year the census takers found themselves with fewer wetlands to survey as the drought left many areas devoid of water with a concomitant dearth of waterbirds. Potworks Dam, Bethesda Dam, Wallings Reservoir and several other smaller water bodies are overgrown with plants thanks to below average rainfall. This has left the McKinnons Pond as a haven for migratory birds. The census yielded sightings of Northern Shovellers, Northern Pintails, American Wigeons, Greater and Lesser Scaups, numerous Blue-winged Teals, Ruddy ducks and the ubiquitous White-cheeked Pintail ducks. Once again juvenile and first year Lesser Black-backed Gulls were observed, fuelling speculation that the gulls may nest either on the island or on one of Antigua’s many offshore islands. Many shorebirds were also seen at Cocos Swamp as participants kept a sharp eye out for threatened species such as the Piping Plover. The Ruddy Turnstone in breeding plumage and striking black and white feathers of the Black-necked stilts were a pleasure to watch. The presence of all these birds and many more at McKinnon’s Pond, despite the severe drought, has cemented its importance as a wetland that should be preserved with herculean effort. Great to see the new generation of birders out in force on #Antigua #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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We are pleased to announce that #Aruba participated in the CWC for the first time. The counts were organized by Facundo Franken (Department of Agriculture, Husbandry and Fisheries), and Tatiana Becker, Aldrick Besaril and Jose Lecler (National Park of Aruba), which took place at Spanish Lagoon, a designated Ramsar site. The most commonly observed birds during the census were the Bare-eyed Pigeon and Bananaquit. The largest flocks consisted of Black-necked Stilts, Neotropical Cormorants, and Greater- and Lesser Yellowlegs, which were mainly observed at the salt pond. Some rare species such as the Scarlet Ibis and Roseate Spoonbill were also observed. The CWC also helped paint a clear picture of the threats the birds face in this wetland, namely dogs, racing mountain bikers, off-roading vehicles, invasive boas, noise pollution from motorway and shooting rink, and various impacts related to a bridge construction in the wetland. #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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One hundred and fifteen students and teachers were exposed to wetland and shorebirds at the recent World Wetlands Day Caribbean Waterbird Census count at the University of the West Indies Biodiversity Centre and Marine Laboratory in Port Royal, Jamaica. They were taken on tour of the wetlands within the Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area. Nicola Anderson-Coke, Grade 5 Teacher at Harbour View Primary School said, “This day was a magnificent experience for the children as they were able to see birds with their natural eyes as well as through binoculars.” The students were guided by Damany Calder, Environmental Officer of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and Damian Whyte, Environmental Officer, Urban Development Corporation. The binoculars were provided by Jamaica Environment Trust and NEPA. Some of the birds observed during the bird count activity include Ruddy Turnstones, Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Yellow Warblers, Snowy Egrets, Magnificent Frigate Bird, and a Spotted sandpiper. We thank Ava Tomlinson for sharing their experience and this wonderful photo of Cumberland High School and Donald Quarrie High School students focusing on birds in the Kingston Harbour at Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area. #Jamaica #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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Thanks to funding support from Environment Canada, the blessing of Cargill managers, and partnerships with local organizations STINAPA #Bonaire, Wild Conscience, and the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance, intensive surveys have been conducted at Cargill for a second year. The surveys provide estimates of population numbers of target species at the site. Although the estimates are still being refined, there is no doubt that this site provides a winter home for thousands of shorebirds, enough to nominate it for a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network site. It could also be a critical stopover area during spring and fall migration for shorebirds that spend the winter further south. Additional counts in the spring and fall of 2016 will help answer that question. One of the most exciting finds from the February surveys were fairly large flocks of Red Knots. A leg band (green flag) on one of the birds was imprinted with the letters "CTK". After entering the banding data into BandedBirds.org and corresponding further with the ornithologist that had banded the bird, Larry Niles, we learned that this bird was first captured and banded in 2004, making it a very old bird, at least 12 years of age. It was recaptured again in 2008 and May of 2015 in Delaware Bay. Larry commented: “On May 30, which is the end of this stop over period, the bird weighed only 154 g which is 26 grams short of the 180 g threshold necessary for a successful flight to the Arctic. Nevertheless this bird survived and still breeds.” It is great to know that the salt ponds of Bonaire are providing a home for the winter of 2015-2016 (and perhaps other years as well!). WHSRN site designation will help raise awareness about the importance of “this little island” and the Cargill Salt Facility as a haven for migratory shorebirds. #Bonaire #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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Since 2012 the Bird Ecology Group at the University of Havana in #Cuba has been conducting the Caribbean Waterbird Census (CWC). This year the CWC counts were coupled with the 2016 Piping Plover International Census. With the support of Environment and Climate Change Canada through Bird Studies Canada and BirdsCaribbean, a team of six Cuban and two Canadian ornithologist, as well as seven Cuban volunteers, covered more than 50 different localities throughout Cuba. Given the special emphasis in the Piping Plover census, most of the localities visited were at the main island shores and at other small islands (cays) at the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago. Overall, 179 km of coastal areas were covered from Pinar del Rio province to Holguin province. Although the winter residency period of 2016 was not very good for waterbirds in terms of habitat availability (deeper waters than usual at coastal lagoons), the census produced a report of 71 waterbird species and other 17 species associated to wetland ecosystems. The number of Piping Plovers detected was one of the most remarkable results. The census produced the highest number of Piping Plover wintering in Cuba thus far (104 individuals). The team documented four new localities for the species both at the North and South coast of Cuba. Highest numbers of Piping Plover were located in the Sabana-Camagüey Archipelago. The census revealed another abundance record. A total of 193 Wilson’s Plover were spotted. Two flocks of 30 Red Knots each were detected at Peninsula de Hicacos and Playa Las Canas (Pinar del Río). The opportunity to cover a wider area during the CWC counts resulted in sightings of other threatened species at the region. For example, important flocks of Roseate Tern were spotted at the south coast of Cuba. Salinas de Bido in the north coast of Matanzas province held an important group of Snowy Plover. Rare species of shorebirds and seabirds were spotted during the counts such as: Whimbrel, Long-billed Dowitcher, American Oystercatcher, Foster Tern, Common Tern, Great Black-Backed Gull, and Lesser Black- Backed Gull. #Caribbeanbirds #wetlands #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #birdscaribbean #IWC50 #Waterbirdscount

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A prolonged drought in St. Croix in 2015 contributed to very low counts of waterbirds at many wetlands in January 2016. Counts were carried out at eight locations: 5 saline or brackish ponds, one coastal site and 2 freshwater ponds. Three teams completed two counts at each location between January 14 – 19. Sadly, two of the locations were completely dry. At Great Pond, mangroves are in severe decline, possibly due to sargassum blocking the flow of tidal exchange with the sea. Nevertheless, Hope, the famous Whimbrel was present there during the count on January 14th. Thanks to Carol Cramer-Burke for sharing this photo of herself and Lisa Yntema in the field during surveys! #StCroix #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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While St. Eustatius is a dry landmass with no rivers, mangroves or lakes, Zeelandia beach on the north-eastern coast is an excellent site for surveying (water)birds. During this year's CWC, Hannah Madden counted Brown Pelicans, a Yellow-crowned Night Heron, an Osprey and a solitary Spotted Sandpiper (photo) in winter plumage. Despite the lack of freshwater wetlands, St. Eustatius boasts a large and accessible population of Red-billed Tropicbirds. A short walk along Zeelandia beach brings visitors in close range of these graceful seabirds. In total 23 Tropicbirds were observed during the short CWC, with many more nesting on the north-eastern coast of the island. You can read more about birding on St. Eustatius in our earlier post (March 13) below. Thank you Hannah for sharing your CWC experience with us! #StEustatius #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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Turks and Caicos’ Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) joined this year’s Piping Plover Census, where they counted 96 Piping Plovers. This number covers Providenciales, Little way Cay, Donna Cay, Ft. George, North Caicos, Middle Caicos, South Caicos, part of East Caicos, and Little Ambergris Cay. Team DEMA continues its bird monitoring works in Wheeland Pond, Provo Golf Course and other areas thanks to assistance from Bryan Manco, Eric Salamanca and Katharine Hart. A tree planting activity was led by DEMA (Amy Avenant) during World Wetland Day, and some bird educational materials were displayed during the TCI Science Fair. Thanks to Eric Salamanca for sharing TCI's experience with us. Here is a great photo of Eric in the field during the Piping Plover survey. #TurksandCaicos #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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Ecological Action Group (Grupo Accion Ecologica) in the #DominicanRepublic took this amazing photo of a group of White Ibis during their 2016 CWC! Maria Paulino from the EAG states: "During the time we've been doing this count we have come to realize that our country has a wealth that man can put no economic value on; it is a gift from nature that is still hidden for many. We have discovered the wonders of our wetlands thanks to these counts, and realized that bird species we once considered rare are actually quite common, that these species are there and are part of our fauna. These counts have also served to involve communities so that they can learn about, appreciate and care for these wetlands. We as a group, have managed to integrate new people in the counts and they have learned to regard wetlands differently, because they see a great number of beautiful birds. We have also discovered new places in our country with a variety of wonderful birds. It is a pleasure to be a part of the CWC – we are committed to continuing monitoring and protecting wetland habitats, and we look forward to expanding our counts elsewhere in the future." Thank you Maria for your inspiring words and beautiful photos. We will be publishing an ebook of the 2016 CWC soon! #Waterbirdscount #IWC50 #birdscaribbean #Caribbeanwaterbirdcensus #wetlands #Caribbeanbirds

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