This past Friday we finished our last survey on Abaco. During our 23-day stay we completed 29 surveys in Coppice habitat, 31 in Pine habitat, and 35 in mixed Coppice-Pine habitat. Our transects were spread across the entire island, with each lasting about 48 minutes, for a total of about 80 hours of survey time. In that time we only found 4 Kirtland’s Warblers, and all in Coppice habitat on the southern tip of the island. Kirtland’s have been reported on Abaco and some of the other Pine Islands in the past. We visited some of the previous observation sites and the habitat often looked right. However, one thing we noticed is that many of these observations were in the early Fall or late Spring, when Kirtland’s are migrating, so it appears that some of the observations were just of birds passing through. Another complicating factor is misidentification. To an untrained eye, Kirtland’s look a bit like the Bahamas Warbler. The Bahamas Warbler spends all of its time in Pine habitats foraging right on the main trunk of Pine trees, and we suspect that some of the sightings in Pine habitat may just have been Bahamas Warblers, a species found only on Grand Bahama and Abaco.
While collecting these data wasn’t always the most exciting time, it was incredibly valuable nonetheless. We are now pretty certain that Kirtland’s Warblers do not prefer Pine habitat or perhaps the more northern Pine-dominated islands in general. We hope to complete our analyses and publish this work in the coming year. Our initial impression is that the Pine habitats just don’t have enough of the fruit plants (e.g., Wild Sage, Black Torch) that Kirtland’s love to eat in the winter, or the dense understory they prefer to forage in. Ultimately, our work will help the Bahamaian government and conservation organizations protect wintering habitat by allowing them to focus their efforts solely on Coppice habitat and on the more central islands.
Our team has identified several different opportunities for protecting more wintering habitat in the Bahamas. Large-scale preserves are always one option, and when coupled with eco-tourism might be economically viable in some areas. One of the other potential opportunities for creating more Kirtland’s habitat is through goat farming. It turns out that goat grazing provides the right type of disturbance to favor growth of Wild Sage and Black Torch. On Eleuthera, we’ve found quite a few Kirtland’s on goat farms. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll be able to buy Smithsonian Bird Friendly Goat meat and cheese. We’ve also seen Kirtland’s underneath power lines. Thus, power line corridors, which have to be routinely mowed, allowing re-growth of Wild Sage and Black Torch, are another potential opportunity that we are pursuing.
While walking for hours through the various Pine and Coppice habitat on Abaco, we saw lots of birds – about 75 different species of both resident and migratory birds. We also saw lots of other interesting critters, including the introduced Raccoons and Wild Pigs, Silver Argiope spiders, Starfish, Spotted Eagle Rays, Green Sea Turtles, dragonflies, and many friendly Bahamaian dogs. We also saw many beautiful flowers including some Passionflowers and Purple Morning Glories.
Saturday we moved to Cat Island. The airport was enormous (see below) and we got lost a few times, but that and our other adventures on Cat Island will have to wait until next time....