Bird News archive Central America and Caribbean

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Victory for Jamaican conservationists?


A Jamaican High Court judge has ruled in favour of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA), Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and four individuals in a Judicial Review case concerning the granting of an environmental permit for part of a planned 1,918-room hotel in the Island's bird-rich Pear Tree Bottom area of Runaway Bay.

On 16 May, Justice Sykes quashed the environmental permit granted to Hoteles Jamaica Piñero Limited (HOJAPI) for Phase One of the hotel and ordered that the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) reconsider the application for the project. He ruled that NEPA and the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) had not complied with the legal requirements of the decision-making process and had therefore acted unfairly in granting the environmental permit.

"This ruling is a landmark decision for the Jamaican environmental movement." —Wendy Lee, Northern Jamaica Conservation Association

However, in response to a request from the NRCA lawyers, the judge agreed to a 21-day stay on the revocation of the permit to allow the Respondents to prepare an appeal if they so choose.

In delivering his judgement, Justice Sykes found that NEPA had failed to consider all of the relevant environmental information, including a critical marine ecology report that was missing from the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). He added that given the undisputed high ecological value of Pear Tree Bottom, the absence of the marine ecology report was of "tremendous significance" to the decision-making process which the court was being asked to examine.

"There used to be many endemic birds in the forest including the Vervain, Mango and streamertail hummingbirds, and the globally threatened Yellow-billed Amazon parrot. Shorebirds and seabirds love the Pear Tree Bottom coast precisely because of the shallow back-reef and sand bars the very habitat that the hotel wants to dredge in order, they say, to 'improve habitat'!" commented Wendy Lee of the Northern Jamaica Conservation Association (NJCA).

Cahow class of 2002 return to breed


Four Cahows (Bermuda Petrels) ringed as fledglings during May 2002, returned to the nesting islets off Bermuda in February 2006.

Believed extinct for almost 300 years, numbers of Bermuda Petrels Pterodroma cahow have been slowly recovering since the species was rediscovered in 1951. Over the last five years, an ambitous recovery programme involving relocation and construction of artificial burrows on “hurricane-proof” islets has helped raise numbers to around 250.

Two of this February’s 'first-return' birds were recovered in nest burrows. "One was in a burrow located 6m from the burrow it fledged from, but surprisingly also brooding an egg," explained Jeremy Madeiros of Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services. "As this was an established nest with both adults banded two years ago, this new bird either has displaced one of the previous adults, or has replaced one after it suffered mortality."

The other chick was found in a nest already claimed by an established pair, which had failed to lay an egg this year and left the nest relatively early in the season. "The bird was therefore probably prospecting for a new nest and stayed over for the day in this one. But what was really surprising was that this particular bird originally fledged from another nesting islet 440m away from the one where it ended up."

"Another nine nest burrows are also being prospected this year, with pairs of adults now being confirmed in three of them. Although it is still a bit too early for a final estimate, the total number of active established nest sites this year appears to be about seventy-five." —Jeremy Madeiros, Bermudan Department of Conservation Services

The second pair of first-return birds were captured at night on the same islet, when they landed among an existing complex of active nest burrows. One of these had fledged on the islet; the other had come from the islet 440 metres away.

Jeremy Madeiros thinks it most likely that the two birds not originating from the islet were attracted by the greater amount of activity, as it has by far the largest number of breeding pairs of Cahow (30 pairs).

He says there has also been a unusually large amount of new nest-prospecting activity. "In 2005, prospecting occured at a total of eight new nest burrows, with pairs of adults being confirmed at five of them. All five of these new pairs have produced eggs in 2006, with only one failed egg as of 22 February."

Caribbean oriole taxonomy examined

An examination of the "Greater Antillean Oriole" complex has concluded that it may in fact consist of four distinct species found on different Caribbean islands.

Names proposed for the new splits are Bahamas Oriole Icterus northropi (Andros and Abaco, Bahamas), Cuban Oriole I. melanopsis (Cuba, Isla de Pinos), Hispaniolan Oriole I. dominicensis (Hispaniola) and Puerto Rican Oriole I. portoricensis (Puerto Rico).

The study, by Garrido, Wiley and Kirkonnell, published in the journal Ornitologia Neotropical (16: pp.449–470), found plumage differences between the four forms were more marked in immature birds, with vocal differences considered more significant in adults.

Within the group, Bahamian birds were considerably larger but appeared closest to Black-cowled Orioles I. prosthemelas of Central America in appearance, than to birds from the West Indies.

"Whether or not it is eventually regarded as a separate species, what is not in doubt is that the Bahamas Oriole is one of the Caribbean's rarest birds. Habitat loss and invasive species, two of the major scourges of the region's native wildlife, threaten its continued survival." —David Wege, BirdLife Caribbean Program Manager

If accepted, the splits have considerable conservation implications for the newly recognised endemic species. For example, Puerto Rican birds are frequently victims of brood parasitism following the recent arrival of Shiny Cowbirds Molothrus bonariensis on the island.

Shiny Cowbirds are also a very real threat to the Bahamas Oriole. The orioles are believed to have been extirpated on Abaco and a 1997 study estimates just 50–100 birds on North Andros and 100–200 remaining on South Andros. There is no estimate for the number of birds on Mangrove Cay between North and South Andros.

Panama Bay IBA joins Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network


The Upper Bay of Panama is the first site in Central America to join the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN), a partnership of organisations working to protect shorebirds and their habitats through a network of key sites across the Americas. Because of its importance to migratory birds, BirdLife identified the bay as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in 2003. It is also on the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance.

Every year, the Upper Bay of Panama is visited by as many as 2 million shorebirds travelling between North and South America via the Isthmus of Panama. Counts of shorebirds along the Panama coast at times exceed 10,000 per kilometer. The site is used by more than 30 percent of the world female population of Western Sandpiper Calidris mauri, and is globally important for at least six other shorebird species. Based on these high migratory bird counts, the area has been recognized as a WHSRN Site of Hemispheric Importance.

Shorebirds are threatened by many factors, including habitat destruction, pollution and human disturbance. More than a quarter of all North America's shorebird species and subspecies are in serious decline, according to WHSRN. Some, such as the New World race of Red Knot (Calidris canutus), will become extinct within present lifetimes if current trends are not halted.

To protect shorebirds and their habitats, WHSRN works with over 200 partner organizations across the Hemisphere. In Panama, the organising partners are ANAM (the National Environmental Authority of Panama), and the Panama Audubon Society (PAS, BirdLife partner in Panama).
For the past seven years, the Panama Audubon Society has been working to preserve the wetlands of the Upper Bay of Panama, said Rosabel Miró, President of the Panama Audubon Society. The Bay of Panama, which is the first site in Central America to be part of the WHSRN network, is a critical site for migratory shorebirds. Preserving this annual spectacle can only be done through international cooperation, an increasingly obvious requirement for protecting the world’s ecosystems.

Ecuador's month of birds


October, Month of the Birds, a festival organised by Aves&Conservación (BirdLife in Ecuador), is celebrating the union between birds and people with over 50 activities in more than 10 cities and towns around the country.

Nearly 20,000 people are expected to take part in the month-long festival, which began on 1 October with an event attended by governmental officials, representatives from conservation NGOs, public figures and nature lovers at Quito’s Botanical Gardens.

The festival was officially declared as a formal activity in Quito, Ecuador’s capital city, as well as in other large cities including Guayaquil and Cuenca. October, Month of the Birds 2005 is one of the biggest environmental festivals in the region and was possible thanks to the support of two important companies, Telefónica-Movistar and Biósfera, both strategic allies of Aves&Conservación.

"October, Month of the Birds will create public awareness towards the conservation of birds and biodiversity, and the importance of strongly connecting people with these activities." Diego F. Cisneros-Heredia, President, Aves&Conservación

The festival will continue throughout October, with Aves&Conservación (in cooperation with several local NGOs around Ecuador) organising numerous cultural, historical, sporting, musical, conservation and science activities to let people find out more about the wonderful birds of Ecuador.

October, Month of the Birds is part of BirdLife's World Bird Festival which is held annually in the Americas and every three or four years globally.

New tapaculos from Colombia


Two new bird species have been described from the Cordillera Central mountains of Colombia, both of them tapaculos in the genus Scytalopus.

The first, published in The Auk (122(2): 445–463), is Stiles’s Tapaculo Scytalopus stilesi. Unidentified tapaculos have been observed in the northern Cordillera Central for a decade, and when Niels Krabbe examined recordings of their songs, his suspicions arose that they were a new species. Stiles’s Tapaculo’s song is considerably faster and lower-pitched than that of the closely related Ecuadorian Tapaculo S. robbinsi. Furthermore, it is genetically distinct and retains its integrity throughout a 300 km stretch of the Cordillera Central where it occupies montane forest between 1,420 and 2,130 m altitude. In this limited area it is a common understorey bird and is known from 21 localities, including several protected areas.

The second new species is the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo S. rodriguezi. Its discovery is similar to Stiles’s Tapaculo, since the presence of an unknown tapaculo in the Finca Merenberg mountains of the southern Cordillera Central has been known since the 1980s. Although recordings were made in 1986, ornithologists were unable to rule out the possibility that they were the unknown song of the confusus race of Northern White-crowned Tapaculo S. atratus, since political instability meant access to the area for further study was unsafe during the 1990s.

"It was frustrating, waiting for years knowing there were new species to be discovered and protected." - Paul Salaman, Fundación ProAves

"It was frustrating, waiting for years knowing there were new species to be discovered and protected", says Paul Salaman of Fundación ProAves, one of the expedition members who describes the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo in Bull. B.O.C. (125(2): 93–108). "Then we learned it was safe to visit the Finca Merenberg mountains and soon found the new species in dense understorey of primary forest. In appearance it’s very like other Scytalopus tapaculos, but has a distinctive voice."

The song is amongst the simplest of any Scytalopus, consisting of a single note repeated at a pace of 4- 5 per second, usually given in bouts of 2- 5 phrases.

Currently the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo is known from two localities on the east slope of the Cordillera Central at 2,000–2,300 m elevation. The species’ presumed area of occupancy is heavily deforested and its remaining suitable forest habitat may cover 169 km2 or less. One of the locations, Merenberg Reserve, was Colombia’s first private protected area, although the site is known to be rapidly deteriorating through selective logging, and the authors have recommended the Upper Magdalena Tapaculo is classified as Endangered.

Tapaculos are generally dark coloured and skulk in thick forest undergrowth, making them notoriously difficult to study in the field. They have subtle plumage variations, some of them age-related, although there is much individual variation, as well as differences between species. Some taxonomists regard Scytalopus tapaculos as the most complicated of all Neotropical genera. Voice is the most important aid to their identification, and study of birds in the northern Andes has already led to the description of three new species, and the elevation of several former subspecies to specific level in Ecuador.
The proposed specific status for stilesi and rodriguezi will be assessed by BirdLife International in due course, noting any decision made by the South American Classification Committee of the American Ornithologists’ Union. If treated as full species, their conservation status will be evaluated by BirdLife, the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.

New hope for Great Green Macaw


The Ecuadorian Minister of the Environment has signed a decree putting into effect a conservation strategy for the Great Green Macaw Ara ambigua.

The Great Green Macaw is classified as Endangered and numbers fewer than 2,500 individuals in Central and South America, with just 60-90 individuals of the western Ecuadorian guayaquilensis race known, in Esmeraldas and Guayas Provinces.

The conservation strategy was drawn up following a September 2003 workshop organised by Fundaciòn Pro-Bosque, and supported by the Neotropical Bird Club and Zoo des Sables, involving Ministry of the Environment and NGO staff from Ecuador plus staff from a Great Green Macaw project in Costa Rica.

In January 2005 a working group was formed consisting of representatives of the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment, Municipality of Guayaquil, Fundaciòn Pro-Bosque and Fundaciòn Rescate Jambelí. Initially the group will focus on a field census and monitoring programme and protect any nests that are located. Future actions will concentrate on habitat protection and restoration through the creation of protected areas and conservation agreements with relevant private land owners.
By Eric Von Horstman, Great Green Macaw Working Group. Birdlife International Press relese.

Ecuador recognises Important Bird Areas

Ecuador has become the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to recognise Important Bird Areas (IBAs) as sites of public interest for conservation – joining the United States, Canada, Mexico, Tunisia and the European Union in officially embracing IBAs as important instruments for the conservation of birds, biodiversity and their habitat.

A true test of this support will come when the Ecuadorian government decides how to deal with the proposed longline fishing issue in the Galapagos Islands National Park, a designated IBA. The Galapagos support over 10,000 breeding pairs of Waved Albatross Phoebastria irrorata, the largest and most important colony in the world for this threatened species.

"It's great news that the most important sites in Ecuador for birdlife have now been acknowledged by the government. This official recognition sets a precedent in South America that we hope will serve as an example for uniting the Andes in a regional effort to conserve its world-renowned biodiversity." - Sandra Loor Vela, CECIA

Ecuador's holds a stunning range of birdlife, with more than 1,600 bird species recorded in an area just the size of the United Kingdom. Over a hundred IBAs have been identified in Ecuador through the participation of the country’s top biologists, scientists and ecotourism representatives. This ambitious programme was coordinated by CECIA (BirdLife in Ecuador).

In 1997, “Mindo and Northwestern Pichincha Volcano” was identified as the first IBA in the Americas. In 2003, as part of a national workshop on IBAs, 106 further sites were identified including 10 in the Galapagos Islands, 44 along the coast, 47 in the Andean highlands, and 6 in the Amazon lowlands. These preliminary results were presented in 2003 at the first National Congress on Protected Areas in Ecuador.

Tumbesian reserve secures future for endemic birds


Some of the most important areas for endemic birds in South America, the dry forests of La Ceiba and Romeros at the centre of the Tumbesian region in Ecuador, have had their future secured.

The 1,680 hectare Hacienda Romeros estate, which still retains 80% of its semi-deciduous forest cover, has been purchased as a nature reserve by BirdLife International, in collaboration with Fundación Científica San Francisco (FCSF) and Nature and Culture International (NCI). The Small Grants for the Purchase of Nature Programme, supported by the The Netherlands Postcode Lottery, helped to fund the acquisition.

BirdLife has designated the site an Important Bird Area (IBA), Tumbesia-La Ceiba-Zapotillo Natural Reserve. The wider region is an Endemic Bird Area (EBA), and it is one of four EBAs in north-western Peru and Ecuador which BirdLife is targetting with £164,000 [c.$300,000] raised by the 2004 British Birdwatching Fair.

These forests provide the major stronghold for a number of globally threatened birds including the Grey-cheeked Parakeet Brotogeris pyrrhopterus and Blackish-headed Spinetail Synallaxis tithys (both Endangered).

The new reserve will also protect watersheds on which thousands of families depend and prevent erosion caused by deforestation and overgrazing. Local communities will be involved in sustainable activities using forest resources such as medicinal plants, fibres and fruit. Income will be generated from visitors and a number of local jobs will be created.

BirdLife is part of a consortium of conservation groups called Bosques sin Fronteras, which is co-ordinating conservation action in the region. Another member organisation, Fundacion Jocotoco, has just completed the purchase of another important site, the 800 hectare Jatunpamba-Jorupe about 100km away.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World News archive. |  Bird News archive Central America and Caribbean

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