Bird watching is fast becoming a popular hobby throughout the Caribbean, and considerable numbers of Antiguans and Barbudans have also picked up the pastime. Bird watching, as I have experienced, is both enjoyable and addictive, but it also drives locals to become more in tune with the wildlife that envelops us. Additionally, seasoned bird-watchers can attest to the fact that the presence and abundance of bird-species is inextricably linked to the health of the natural environment.
There have been several region-wide and international birding initiatives that have been used locally to educate our people and to harvest more interest in birding activities. Presently, the EAG is winding down from its celebration of International Migratory Birds. International Migratory Bird Day is officially commemorated, in our region, on the 20th October. On that same day this year, the EAG held a bird-watching activity at the McKinnons Swamp. It was there that I saw, for the very first time, a live Ruddy Turnstone. The spotting scope was homed in to a mudflat near to the centre of the swamp. There, I observed Brown Pelicans, Laughing Gulls, Cattle Egrets, and Spotted Sandpipers, all seemingly relaxing, and taking in the last of the afternoon sun…all but one. I quickly noticed a “busy-body”, a small bird, with bright orange legs, running as though in a real hurry, to and fro, to and fro, on the mudflat. I hastily consulted my field guide, and confirmed my thoughts with one of the seasoned bird-watchers. My excitement could not be contained, since I had for a long time, only ever seen this bird in photo imagery.
The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is one of 40 to 50 shorebird species recorded in the Caribbean. It is a chunky shorebird with a reddish-brown back, black bib, orange legs and small pointed bill. It is an amazing long distance migrant capable of covering thousands of miles in a few days of migration. It breeds in the Arctic and winters as far south as Argentina. In the Caribbean, it is observed mainly from August to May on our beaches and mudflats. The name ‘Turnstone’ comes from the way it flips over small stones and shells in search of invertebrate food items in the sand. Unfortunately, as for many other shorebirds, the Ruddy Turnstone is threatened by destruction and degradation of coastal habitats from development and pollution.
We continued to observe the Turnstone for as long as the light …and mosquitoes… would allow. Had I been able to chat with this bird, I can only imagine the stories and experiences it would have had to share with me, from faraway and icy places, to verdant, rolling mountain splendor; of different cultures and peculiar people; of formidable weather and an uncertain future. This tiny globetrotter holds a wealth of information and we were completely drawn in by its simple beauty. International Migratory Bird Day is a celebration of the spectacular journey that migratory birds take between their summer and winter homes. Many species of migratory birds spend the winter in or migrate through the Caribbean. They rely on the food, water and shelter provided in our forest, scrub and wetland habitats for up to 9 months out of the year. Let’s learn about migratory birds and work together to protect them. Our country, thankfully still offers several hotspots to observe both migratory and resident birds: Parham Swamp, Christian Valley, Wallings Reservoir, Potworks Dam, McKinnons Swamp, the Barbuda Lagoon, among others. So grab your cameras, and go outdoors. Maybe you can even capture a photo of a Ruddy Turnstone!