In 2010, the EAG added participation in the Caribbean Waterbird Census to its list of programmes for the study and conservation of the environment and biodiversity. This is overseen by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, whose mandate is summed up quite aptly in its title. The programme has been ongoing for three years and has revealed much about the wetlands and waterbirds which are part of the Antiguan and Barbudan landscape.
In February 2009, the Society’s Monitoring Working Group held a workshop in the Bahamas entitled “Bird Monitoring in the Caribbean – Why, What, Where, When and How,” funded by the Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative/Organization of American States and many others.
It involved participants from 18 West Indian islands and two Caribbean rim countries. The workshop highlighted the gap in scientific information about water birds and wetlands in the Caribbean, a gap that is not covered by the Neotropical Waterbird Census (NWC) and the International Waterbird Census (IWC). As a result of discussions held at this workshop, the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds decided to establish the Caribbean Waterbird Census to complement the NWC and the IWC.
The overall goal of the Caribbean Waterbird Census is to increase support for waterbird and wetland conservation in the insular Caribbean by promoting monitoring as a means to improve science-based conservation planning and adaptive management of birds. The involvement of ordinary citizens is of paramount importance so the protocols developed for the programme promote citizen science. Ordinary citizens are given the opportunity to gather data that is scientifically useful.
The EAG held workshops in 2011 and 2012 to familiarise participants with these protocols and introduce them to the world of birds. The attendees were then given training sessions in the field. The official census period is mid-January to early February. During this time, Antigua joins countries throughout the Caribbean in gathering much needed data on the status of waterbirds and wetlands in the region.
In Antigua, the census started with four wetlands in 2011 and now surveys seven wetland sites, including McKinnon’s Pond, Flashes, Christian Cove, Darkwood Swamp, Johnson’s Point Swamp and Fitches Creek (Parham).
The 2013 census revealed that there are 39 waterbird species currently making use of the wetlands surveyed in Antigua. They include the well known Brown Pelicans and garlings but also revealed species new to our participants such as Lesser Scaups, Ruddy Ducks, Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Glossy Ibis.
Most interestingly, the Ruddy Duck was observed to be breeding, with several clutches of over seven chicks each. Ruddy Ducks are considered a supplanting species and their presence at the McKinnon’s pond bears further study as previous census exercises have shown that White-cheeked Pintails and West Indian Whistling ducks (threatened) also breed in this area.
The possibility exists that these two species may be displaced by the Ruddy Duck. It was also instructive that the Darkwood swamp – an area that previously seemed bereft of birdlife in spite of its size, recorded the presence of over 100 Blue-winged Teals and 180 Sandpipers. Over 1,600 birds were counted across the seven wetlands by the volunteers. The census showed that there was an increase in the dumping of solid waste in some wetlands and that all wetlands were negatively affected by the very dry weather conditions.
The future of the Caribbean Waterbird Census in Antigua will mean an expansion in the number of wetlands surveyed and the implementation of National Census periods outside of the official census time set by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds. There is also the intention to move the monitoring from levels one and two to levels that require the collection of more detailed data on the habitats. There will, therefore, be more workshops and other activities to promote the Caribbean Waterbird Census. Birds are excellent indicators of the health and quality of wetlands, and provide recreation. The Caribbean Waterbird Census will allow Antigua & Barbuda to step up to the responsibility it shares with other countries of the world to manage its wetlands for the benefit of the birds and all other creatures.