Bird Talk - Erika Gates
Birding – Better in the Bahamas
By Erika Gates
Sep 25, 2015 - 11:25:02 AM

Left to right: Wood Stork at Pine Ridge Landfill; Roseate Spoonbill at Pine Ridge Landfill; A healthy, thriving Anhinga at Reef Golf Course; and a rare Whimbrel at West End, Grand Bahama Island

Throughout the summer the Bahamas received increasing attention as a birding destination through a variety of events staged by people as well as birds!

For the first time in 51 years Woodstorks were seen on Grand Bahama Island! Another rarity was the Roseate Spoonbill. Both species enjoyed the rain-filled wetlands at the Freeport Pine Ridge Landfill. They were first observed by Lou Carroll, the General Manager of the facility who is making sure that birds and their habitat are respected by his staff and given a wide berth by heavy equipment!

Another first for Grand Bahama this summer was an Anhinga, a close relative of the Cormorant. The strikingly plumaged female has made its home at the Reef Golf Course, a birding site with the second largest number of species on the island. When the bird was initially observed, a blue piece of plastic trash was wrapped around her bill and our worst fear, that she would not be able to feed herself, was eliminated, when, days later, she had extricated herself of the plastic by rubbing her beak against branches and using her foot to pull it off!

Another exciting sighting this fall at Westend Grand Bahama was a Whimbrel, seen by Linda Barry-Cooper. Linda not only observed this rare species but was lucky enough to get a picture!  The last Whimbrel was seen by renowned birder, Dr. Elwood Bracey on Abaco 13 years ago.

Another highlight “for the birds” in the Bahamas this summer was the Annual Board of Directors Meeting of  BirdsCaribbean who had chosen the tranquil and “birdorable” setting of Garden of the Groves on Grand Bahama Island for their meeting. During the three day gathering, strategic planning, financial sustainability, education and habitat conservation were several of the many topics addressed.

BirdsCaribbean, formerly the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, is the largest regional organization, dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats in over 37 Caribbean countries, Bermuda and the Bahamas.

Founded in 1988, BirdsCaribbean is a non-profit organization with over 1200 members and supporters from around the world.  The organization  assists in conservation  by raising awareness, increasing human capacity and promoting sound science. By working together with its members and affiliated groups BirdsCaribbean influences environmental decision-making and conservation policies in the region.
2015 Board of Directors Meeting at Garden of the Groves, Bahamas, from left to right: Ancilleno Davis, Director, Bahamas, PHD candidate Environmental Biology, Lyndon John, Vice President, St. Lucia, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Dr. Leo Douglas, Jamaica, President, Lecturer at Columbia University, New York, Erika Gates, Director, Bahamas, Garden of the Groves and Grand Bahama Nature Tours, Rachel Barrett, US, Fundraising Workshop Facilitator, Jennifer Wheeler, Treasurer, U.S., ret. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Migratory Bird Management, Dr. Ann Sutton, Secretary, Jamaica, Conservation Ecologist and Consultant for Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, Dr. Herbert Raffaele, Director, U.S., ret. Chief U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division of International Conservation, Dr. Lisa Sorenson, Executive Director, U.S., Conservation Ecologist and Associate Professor Boston University, Mark Lopez, Director, U.S., Assistant Vice President Tropical Shipping Eastern Caribbean Division.

Bahamian birds and their habitat also received wonderful exposure during BirdsCaribbean bi-annual International conference in Jamaica, where over 220 delegates gathered to share the latest Caribbean bird science, conservation and education.

The Bahamas was well represented by former president of BirdsCaribbean and present Executive Director of the Bahamas National Trust, Eric Carey, Carolyn Wardle of Bahamas Outdoors, Ancellino Davis, Nassau, Director of BC, Erika and Ed Gates of Grand Bahama Nature Tours and Christina and Pericles Maillis, attorney and conservationist from Nassau, Susan Krupica, Grand Bahama, Administration BC.

Mr. Maillis was a keynote speaker and delighted the audience with a captivating presentation titled “Restoring our parts of earth for WE humans, for birds and for all life”

In addition to over 120 presentations, workshops and panel discussions, the delegates enjoyed a variety of fieldtrips to explore Jamaica’s natural areas, especially the Blue and John Crow mountains that had been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO just weeks before the meeting.

TOP right: Erika Gates, is recognized by Dr. Lisa Sorenson and Anthony Levesque, Guadeloupe, for her educational work during International Migratory Birds Events on Grand Bahama; MIDDLE left: Opening Session of BirdsCaribbean Conference, Kingston, Jamaica; MIDDLE right: Pericles Maillis addresses conference; BOTTOM left: Susan Krupia of Grand Bahama is introduced as the new Administrative Secretary for BC by Dr. Lisa Sorenson; BOTTOM right: Erika and Ed Gates during conference fieldtrip with Dr. Cagan Sekercioglu, conservation ecologist with focus on bird extinction, contributing photographer for National Geographic and one of the world’s top birders with over 6000 species recorded on eBird.

And finally, our beautiful Bahamas birds and their habitats received exposure in Europe during the largest Bird and Nature Travel Show in the world, the British Bird Fair near London! This event showcases birding and nature destinations from around the world.

Motmot Travel, a British tour operator that had been marketing birding tours to most Caribbean islands had never sold the Bahamas but upon a recent invitation by the Grand Bahama Port Authority, the owner of Motmot Travel, Mr. Gilbert Bastyra, birded on Grand Bahama and also on Abaco and New Providence. He was so impressed by our bird variety and theirnhabitats, that, upon his return to England he added the Bahamas into their program. He asked me to come to the Show and assist in launching the Bahamas at Motmot’s booth!

Thousands of people visited the Bird and Travel Fair each day and I was amazed how many Europeans take several trips a year to birding destinations around the world! I was happy to be able to showcase our little corner of the world, my home, the Bahamas!

Conservation community throughout the Caribbean, Bermuda and the Bahamas involving more than 100,000 local people that participate in many of its flagship programs such as International Migratory Bird Day, Caribbean Endemic Bird Festival, Caribbean Waterbird Census, West Indian Whistling - Duck and Wetlands Conservation Project and Caribbean Birding Trail.

Grand Bahama birding instructor, Erika Gates talking to patrons and seen with other exhibitors at the Bird and Travel --- The Bird and Travel Fair in Britain is the largest in the world.

Erika Gates is owner of Kayak Nature Tours (one of the first Eco-Tour businesses in The Bahamas); co-founder of the Ecotourism Association; a published writer; and a Cacique award winner! Her column Bird Talk will enlighten and educate us about birds of The Bahamas, as well as the importance of Ecology. Erika can be reached at or (242) 373-2485

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