Goshen, a shorebird tracked by scientists, becomes second study bird to be lost on Guadeloupe

Written by Dr. Bryan D. Watts/Center for Conservation Biology, College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University

Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology have determined that a second whimbrel they had been tracking as part of a long-term migration study has been lost in a shooting swamp on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Goshen was lost in a heavily hunted swamp just north of the town of Port-Louis almost immediately upon arrival on the island. Although the transmitter has not been recovered the last satellite signals place the bird in the center of the shooting swamp. It now appears that both Machi and Goshen were shot in the morning of 12 September shortly after arriving.

Goshen and Machi were not migrating together but both stopped on the island after encountering different storm systems. Goshen flew through the east side of Hurricane Irene, landed on Montserrat, spent a week on Antigua and then flew to Guadeloupe. Machi flew through Tropical Storm Maria, landed on Montserrat and then flew directly to Guadeloupe. The two whimbrels were the first birds during the four-year tracking study to stop on Guadeloupe and both were lost within hours suggesting that the hunting pressure on this island is extremely high. This island has several isolated mangrove swamps that serve to concentrate the shorebirds for shooting. An estimated 3,000 hunters participate in the shorebird hunt annually. Currently, shooting parties on the island are not regulated and no information is available on the number of shorebirds taken. Without such information it is not possible to assess the potential relationship between hunting and ongoing population declines.

Whimbrels migrating along the western Atlantic coast have declined by 50% since the mid-1990s. The collaborative tracking study has successfully tracked 17 whimbrels via satellite since the spring of 2008.  The focus of this study has been to collect information that is vital to the long-term conservation of this population. Only 4 birds were being tracked during the 2011 fall migration season and half of those were lost in a single morning on Guadeloupe. The relationship between hunting pressures within the Lesser Antilles and population declines for the whimbrel and other shorebird species is unknown.

Most of the hunting activity conducted in the Lesser Antilles appears to be recreational. A video produced by a hunter on Guadeloupe within the same swamp where Goshen was lost illustrates the habitat, the shorebirds, and the shooting activity.

The tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.


Machi a shorebird tracked by scientists survives tropical storm only to be killed by hunters on Guadeloupe

Written by Fletcher M. Smith/Center for Conservation Biology, College of William and Mary, Virginia Commonwealth University

Scientists at the Center for Conservation Biology learned today that a whimbrel that they had been tracking via satellite for 2 years as part of a migration study had been shot by a hunting party this morning on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe (French West Indies). The bird named “Machi” had just flown through Tropical Storm Maria and made landfall on Montserrat before flying to Guadeloupe. Machi had been tracked for over 27,000 miles (44,000 km) back and forth between breeding grounds in the Hudson Bay Lowlands of Canada to wintering grounds on the coast of Brazil. The bird was tracked on 7 nonstop flights of more than 2,000 miles. During the spring of 2010, Machi flew more than 3,400 miles directly from Brazil to South Carolina. Machi serves as an example of birds that interact with many landscapes and cultures throughout the year and a reminder of how international cooperation is required for their continued existence.


Machi being fitted with satellite transmitter in August, 2009. © Bart Paxton


Machi after release. © Bart Paxton

Guadeloupe, Martinique and Barbados continue to operate “shooting swamps” some of which are artificial wetlands created to attract migrant shorebirds for sport shooting during fall migration. It is estimated that tens of thousands of shorebirds continue to be taken annually by hunting clubs on just these three islands. This practice is a throwback to more than a century ago when gunners hunted shorebirds throughout the Americas. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act was passed, in part, to protect dwindling numbers of birds that migrate across country borders. Operated as a French overseas department, both Guadeloupe and Martinique are part of the European Union and are not party to the Treaty. Barbados, once a British colony is now an independent state and also not party to the Treaty. The last Eskimo Curlew known to science was shot on Barbados in 1963. Shorebird hunting within these areas continues to be unregulated to the present time. Conservation organizations continue to work toward some compromise that will reduce pressures on declining species.  


Machi is at Box Tree Creek where the bird it was captured on the Eastern Shore of Virginia in August 2009. © Barry Truitt

Worldwide, many shorebird populations are experiencing dramatic declines. Most of the migratory shorebird species breeding in eastern North America and the Arctic pass over the Caribbean region during the late summer and early fall on their way to wintering grounds. When they encounter severe storms the birds use the islands as refuges before moving on to their final destinations. Hunting clubs take advantage of these events and shoot large numbers of downed birds following the passage of these storms. During the 2009 and 2010 fall migrations, Machi did not stop on any of the islands but flew directly from Virginia to Paramaribo, Suriname before moving on to winter near Sao Luis, Brazil. It appears that the encounter with Tropical Storm Maria caused the bird to stop on Guadeloupe. 


Tracking map of Machi (2009-2011).

Machi contributed a great deal to what we know about whimbrel migration along the western Atlantic. Satellite tracks of this bird over 4 full migrations (http://www.ccb-wm.org/programs/migration/Whimbrel/whimbrel.htm) linked breeding and wintering areas, defined migration routes, identified important migration staging areas, and demonstrated how these birds interact with major tropical systems. This tracking project is a collaborative effort between The Center for Conservation Biology, The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program, and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences.

Chilean Environment Ministry, Manomet Center Sign Shorebird Conservation Agreement

Written by Manomet

The Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences has signed an agreement with the Chilean Ministry of the Environment to collaborate on wetland and shorebird conservation efforts on the critically important island of Chiloé.

Chiloé Island, located off the coast of southern Chile, is home to an enormous number of migratory shorebirds that fly more than 9,300 miles from the northern hemisphere every year to reach the south of Chile.

This crucial habitat is home to 27 percent of the global population of the Hudsonian Godwit (99 percent of its population to the Pacific coast), and 61 percent of the Pacific Coast population of the Whimbrel. Both species breed in North America and are considered of high conservation concern. In February 2011, the island was designated for inclusion in the Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network.


Hudsonian Godwit flock. © Luke DeCicco

Under the newly signed memorandum of understanding, the Manomet Center and the Chilean government will implement the National Strategy for Conservation and Sustainable Use of Wetlands of Chile, which includes conservation education and assistance to local governments and land managers.

The partners will also promote awareness and pride in the remarkable and unique local shorebird and wetland resource. The Environment Ministry and Manomet Center personnel are currently working with local governments to prepare effective regulations to protect Chiloé’s wetlands and to designate municipal reserves on the island.

Wetlands are a strategic resource for Chile, providing a wide range of environmental goods and services that allow us to sustain biodiversity and contribute to the welfare of our communities,” said Ricardo Irarrázabal Sanchez, Chile’s assistant secretary for Environment. “This new partnership with the Manomet Center will allow us to leverage resources and facilitate access to information for making effective conservation decisions for the wetlands of Chiloe as vital ecosystems to sustain populations of migratory birds.


Roosting Hudsonian Godwit flock. © Luke DeCicco

Diego Luna Quevedo, the Manomet Center’s Southern Cone coordinator, said that shorebird conservation could also provide an economic boost to the community.

Beyond the importance of biodiversity, conserving wetlands as critical habitat for migratory shorebirds in Chiloé will benefit local communities by expanding and enhancing the area as a tourist attraction,” said Diego Luna Quevedo, the Manomet Center’s Southern Cone coordinator. “The work will benefit the overall quality of life in the island communities.