Discovering shorebirds in The Bahamas

March 02, 2023

It's February and I feel like I should be in The Bahamas. For years I spent several weeks each year in The Bahamas, often in January or February, searching for shorebirds. We traveled the length of north and central Andros, from the northern Joulter Cays to Bigwood Cay, and every beach and tidal flat in between.  We explored the beaches and tidal flats on the Berry Islands, Inagua, Abaco and more. Over time we learned how and when the shorebirds used the sites, discovered new overwintering areas for threatened species, resighted many banded birds, documented distribution and abundance, identified key habitats the birds were using, assessed potential threats, and recorded data on many other species. 

We traveled by boat, kayak, car and hiked uncounted miles across the sand flats, shallow waters and beaches; camped in remote areas, lived aboard a sailboat and motorboat, and stayed in a wide variety of accommodations. I remember being told “you can’t camp on the Joulter Cays…it’s too dangerous…” 

But it was the only way learn the place, how the shorebirds used various habitats, how the habitats changed through the tidal cycle, and the true importance of the place. We pressed on and convinced a local boat captain to drop us off at one place (with kayaks) and pick us up at another several days later. 

We paddled and pulled the kayaks through the clear water. Lemon sharks, nurse sharks, bonefish and sea turtles were constant companions. Reddish Egrets were common, Great Egrets were regular. Other long-legged waders were frequent. Shorebirds were abundant. This was their place. 

Through it all our discoveries of new overwintering areas for threatened shorebirds led to the creation of new national protected areas. Documenting banded shorebirds led to new information about their connections to migration stopovers and breeding grounds in the US and Canada, and worked successfully with partners like Bahamas National Trust to protect more than 100,000 acres.


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