Greetings from Abaco! After a long winter of data analysis and grant writing I'm finally back in the field.
Our team consists of Joe Wunderle (Research Wildlife Biologist—USFS), Dave Ewert (Senior Conservation Scientist—The Nature Conservancy), Genie Fleming (Field Director—Puerto Rican Conservation Foundation), Ashley Hannah (Field Assistant), and me, Nathan Cooper (Postdoctoral Researcher—Migratory Bird Center). Dave and Joe are long-time Kirtland's researchers, Genie is our expert on Bahamaian plants, Ashley has worked with Kirtland's Warblers in Wisconsin, and if you remember from past blog posts, I spent all of last summer working with Kirtland's on their Michigan breeding grounds.
Our mission while we are in the Bahamas is twofold. First, we want to find more wintering locations for Kirtland's Warblers to add to the evergrowing database. Second, we want to test an important habitat preference.
First, a little background. Kirtland's Warblers are thought to winter almost exclusively in The Bahamas, though there have been a few sightings in Cuba, Bermuda, and on Hispaniola. In 1998, Christopher Haney and colleagues, compiled reported records all the way back to 1841 and strongly suggested that Caribbean Pine habitats are the important habitat for the Kirtland's Warbler. Caribbean Pine is found on the more northern Bahamian islands of Abaco, Andros, and Grand Bahama, and very sparingly on the Turks and Caicos.
However, Joe and Dave's searches on the non-pine islands of Eleuthera, San Salvador, and Long Island have proven to be very successful. On these islands, Kirtland's occupy coppice, a relatively short-statured, dense, and scrubby broadleaf habitat. Because the results of these more recent searches have not matched well with the pine habitat paradigm, we designed a study to formally test the pine vs. coppice habitat preference.
We arrived to Abaco last week and have begun our work. We've completed about 30 transects (see picture below), using playback of the warbler's song and call notes. So far we've run transects in a variety of coppice, pine, and mixed coppice/pine habitats around the southern portion of the island. We've seen lots of interesting birds along the way.
- Bahama Warblers,
- Bahama Woodstars,
- Cuban Emeralds,
- Loggerhead Kingbirds,
- Bahama Swallows, and
- Rose-throated (formerly Cuban) Parrots.
We also found four Kirtland's Warblers, and all in coppice habitat, so far. We've got about two weeks left here on Abaco and we'll post another update when we have completed our surveys. Then we move south to Cat Island…