The bird on Saba’s crest tracked by radar

Environmental Protection in the Caribbean (EPIC), in partnership with Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), recently completed an island-wide survey for the Audubon’s shearwater on Saba, writes The Daily Herald.

Audubons shearwater
The shearwater bird.

The Audubon’s shearwater, also known locally as the wedrego, is displayed prominently on the island’s crest. It is notoriously difficult to survey due to its secretive behaviour and the steep and dangerous terrain it favours.

This seabird spends much of its time out at sea, feeding out in the ocean during the day, and only returning at night to its breeding grounds on Saba and other islands, where it is believed to nest in underground burrows or similarly concealed locations.

The survey was funded by “Bird Life Holland” (Vogelbescherming Nederland) and is part of a collaborative effort coordinated by Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) to learn more about the birds that make their home on and around the islands.

Historically, surveys on Saba for the Audubon’s shearwater have only been successful at determining their continued presence on the island, but it has been difficult to locate nest areas, flight paths and populations. This work aimed to fill in some of those gaps. The expedition used radar to monitor the status and distribution of wedregos on and around Saba. Biologists spent seven days in mid-December 2014 searching for and monitoring shearwaters.
Expedition leader and senior biologist with EPIC Adam Brown said EPIC has recently had great success using radar with the endangered black-capped petrel in Haiti. “The black-capped petrel is very similar to Audubon’s shearwater in that they both come inland at night and nest underground, making traditional survey methods very difficult, particularly in steep areas.”

Using radar to census Saba’s shearwaters was proposed almost three years ago at the DCNA-led biodiversity conference, and a recent SCF/DCNA collaboration with EPIC has made this idea a reality.

The team surveyed most of Saba, including Well’s Bay, The Bottom, Windwardside, Hell’s Gate and Sulphur Mine. Shearwaters were detected at all surveyed locations and more than 450 birds were recorded. Shearwaters were found to fly up numerous valleys on the island towards prominent cliffs.

“Locals are very concerned about the status of their “national bird” and are relieved to hear that there still is a lot of activity. However, we are wary about the impacts of invasive predators, specifically feral cats. It is important to continue monitoring developments and keep up efforts to reduce threats to the vulnerable local sea- bird nesting colonies, said SCF’s Parks Manager Kai Wulf.

“This is an excellent example of the kind of partnership between conservation organisations, which DCNA is proud to support,” said DCNA’s Executive Director Kalli De Meyer. “It uses emerging science to give us new insights into these elusive and iconic birds, addressing a need identified on our biodiversity and filled another gap in our knowledge about the birds on our islands.” The work is to contribute to the ongoing, multi-faceted programme on Audubon’s shearwaters on Saba.

[Here follows an additional remark from the redaction – signed up from a lecture by Adrian del Nevo in 2011 – about the bird on the Saba coat of arms or crest. This bird appears not to be the Audubon’s shearwater but the Manx shearwater from Europe. This is a picture of the Manx shearwater.]

Manx Shearwater

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